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A thesis presented to the Faculty of 
Command and General Staff College 
fulfillment of the requirements 


the U.S. Army 
in partial 
for the 




B.S., United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 1981 

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. 

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A June 1993 


Master' l; Thesis, 3 Aug 92-4 Jun 93 


Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis: Presidential 
Dec is ion—Making 4 ( 1 ,^ Ifa 

LCDR Manuel E. Falcon, USN 



U.S. Army Command and General Staff College 


Ft. Leavenworth, KS 66027-6900 





Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. 

13. ABSTRACT (Maximum 200 words) 

This Study investigates the methods by which President John F. Kennedy arrived at 
decisions to deploy the military in the conduct of foreign policy. Specifically, 
the events covered are the Bay of Pigs, which represents the nadir of Kennedy's 
foreign policy experience, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, regarded as his high water 
mark as a world leader. Further, this study examines how effectively Kennedy 
employed the military once he arrived at the decision to deploy them in pursuit of 
his policies. President Kennedy served during a period of extraordinary turbulence. 
His preferred instrument of choice in foreign policy matters was the military. This 
study explores the maturation of Kennedy's decision-making process and how its 
evolution most affected the military. The study focuses on Kennedy's personality 
and the Cold War political realities to arrive at an understanding of the decision¬ 
making mindset of the era. From this point of reference, the measure of 
effectiveness of Kennedy's "flexible response" strategy is validated and his 
employment of the military can be judged a qualified success. 


Bay of Pigs 

Cuban Missile Crisis 

Military Employment 


Presidential Decision-Making 
Kennedy Administration 





20. LIMITATION OF abstract 





A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U,S. Army 
Command and General Staff College in partial 
fulfillment of the requirements for the 





B.S., United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, 1981 

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 


Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. 



Name of candidate: LCDR Manuel E. Falcon 

Title of Thesis: Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis: 
Presidential Decision-Making and Its Effect on Military 
Employment During the Kennedy Administration 

COL W. Stuart Towns, Ph.D. 

Member, Consulting Faculty 

Accepted this 4th day of June 1993 by: 

, Director, Graduate Degree 

The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of 
the student author and do not necessarily represent the 
views of the U.S. Array Command and General Staff College or 
any other governmental agency. (References to this study 
should include the foregoing srateraent.) 



105 pages. 

This study investigates the methods by which President John 
F. Kennedy arrived at decisions to deploy the military in 
the conduct of foreign policy. Specifically, the events 
covered are the Bay of Pigs, which represents the nadir of 
Kennedy's foreign policy experience, and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis, regarded as his high water mark as a world leader. 
Further, this study examines how effectively Kennedy 
employed the military once he arrived at the decision to 
deploy them in pursuit of his policies. 

President Kennedy served during a period of extraordinary 
turbulence. His preferred instrument of choice in foreign 
policy matters was the military. This study explores the 
maturation of Kennedy's decision-making process and how its 
evolution most affected the military. 

The study focuses on Kennedy's personality and Cold War 
political realities to arrive at an understanding of the 
decision-making mindset of the era. From this point of 
reference, the measure of effectiveness of Kennedy's 
"flexible response" strategy is validated and his employment 
of the military can be judged a qualified success. 










2. BAY OF PIGS. 19 









The Kennedy Presidency, perhaps more than any other 
administration, was inextricably defined by the Cold War. 

It can be convincingly argued that President John F. 
Kennedy's ascendancy to the White House was due in large 
part to his ardent belief in the containment of Communism 
and anti-Soviet rhetoric. While the Cuban Missile Crisis 
can be rightfully regarded as the crowning achievement of 
his foreign policy legacy, it was the Bay of Pigs that 
shaped international events throughout Kennedy's short 
tenure, and accelerated the process which resulted in the 
confrontation with the Soviet Union over the small island 
nation of Cuba. 

A constant throughout Kennedy's years in the White 
House was his use of the military as America's principal 
instrument in the conduct of foreign policy. Decisions to 
deploy the military were based on a myriad of complex issues 
which generally resulted in poorly articulated military 
objectives and an increasingly strained relationship between 
Kennedy and the military. Nevertheless, the military 
remained Kennedy's instrument of choice and when tasked, the 
military was able to effectively define its role and execute 


the President's foreign policy initiatives. This study 
explores the origins of Kennedy's decisions and the 
resultant military employment in support of his policies. 

Kennedy Doctrine 

President John F. Kennedy's 1960 campaign for the 
Oval Office was highlighted by an aggressive assault on the 
incumbent Republican administration's policy toward the 
Soviet Union. During the campaign, Senator Kennedy made 
repeated claims that under the stewardship of President 
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States had fallen behind 
the Soviet Union in technology (the Soviets had launched the 
spacecraft Sputnik in October 1957), in economic growth and, 
most alarmingly, had allowed the creation of a perceived 
missile gap substantially in the Soviet's favor. Closer to 
home, Kennedy suggested that Eisenhower's policies allowed 
the Soviets to gain a foothold in the Caribbean.”' 

Kennedy's campaign promise of a more active role in Cuba and 
not so subtle hints at the elimination of the Cuban leader 
Fidel Castro foreshadowed the major crises of his 

The origin of the Kennedy doctrine can be traced as 
far back as March 12, 1947, when Representative Kennedy was 
in attendance as President Harry S. Truman addressed a joint 
session of Congress. In a barely veiled attempt to scare 
the American public and obtain 400 million dollars from 
Congress for his programs. President Truman provided what 


would be the definitive role of American foreign policy for 
years to come. As the acknowledged leader of the free 
world, the President argued, the United States had the 
inherent responsibility to contain the expansionist Soviet 
Union. The resultant policy of containment was to become 
the Truman Doctrine.^ Putting this doctrine into practice, 
the United States devised the Marshall Plan in the Fall of 
1947, and in 1948 responded to the Soviet blockade of Berlin 
with the Berlin Airlift. 

The Eisenhower doctrine, authored principally by his 
Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was one of massive 
retaliation. Given that the United States possessed a 
nuclear monopoly, this theory was justified in economic 
terms. It was more cost effective to place a greater 
reliance on deterrent nuclear power than to maintain a large 
conventional force. The message to the Soviets was clear: 
the threat of nuclear retaliation was the American strategy 
to counter any expansionist aims they might harbor.^ In 
realistic terras, Eisenhower viewed the ;aaintenancs of a 
nuclear arsenal as cheaper than becoming involved in a 
protracted conflict as his predecessor had done in North 

As Eisenhower's foreign policy evolved, two key 
concepts emerged: (1) the domino theory and (2) an 
increasing use of covert activities as a foreign policy 
tool. The domino theory focused on events unfolding in 


Southeast Asia. The obvious implication was that the United 
States had to stop Communist expansion into Vietnam. The 
means by which this strategy was carried out was in the form 
of government aid and military advisors, some covert. 
Eisenhower viewed covert operations as a convenient means by 
which to disguise failures and capitalize on successes.^ 

Out of Eisenhower's fondness for covert operations grew the 
hugely successful Guatemala plan, a Central Intelligence 
Agency (CIA) conceived operation which resulted in a 
bloodless coup. Suitably emboldened, the CIA set about 
crafting plans (based on the "Guatemala model") for the 
overthrow of the Cuban government.^ As his foreign policy 
decision-making strategies developed. President Kennedy 
would very closely adopt both Eisenhower's concept of the 
domino theory to justify his own aggressive campaign against 
communist expansion, and also Eisenhower's propensity for 
covert operations. 

Maintaining the momentum that carried him into 
office, President Kennedy immediately introduced a strategic 
policy that was markedly different than President 
Eisenhower's. Recognizing the increased Soviet nuclear 
capability and abiding by his own belief that the military, 
much like diplomacy, was a critical instrument of foreign 
policy, Kennedy's strategy became one of "flexible response" 
rather than massive retaliation. President Kennedy wanted 
alternatives to assured destruction, and the forces 


available to present a credible deterrence across the entire 
spectrum of conflict.*^ The result was the United States' 
largest ever pea- cime military buildup to date, and the 
acceleration of an already prodigious arms race with the 
Soviet Union. 

The centerpiece of Kennedy's new strategy was the 
buildup of conventional forces and an emphasis on guerrilla 
warfare, pro-insurgency and counterinsurgency operations. 
With an increase in the defense budget of 526 million 
dollars, Kennedy sought to increase the capabilities of his 
conventional forces. His plans to do so included buying 
additional sealift and airlift assets, developing a ship 
modernization program, and significantly increasing 
conventional war materiel stocks such as ammunition, 
electronic equipment and helicopters.^ 

Turning his attention to Moscow, and in keeping with 
his "flexible response" strategy, the modernization of 
United States nuclear forces was no less a priority for 
President Kennedy. He requested an additional 366 million 
dolla’-s to increase the U.S. inventory of Minuteraan 
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and Polaris 
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) by two-thirds 
while improving their survivability, accuracy, range, and 
reliability.® Kennedy's emphasis was on the maintenance of 
a force capable of delivering a decisive retaliatory strike 
in response to a Soviet first strike. 


In developing his foreign policy doctrine. President 
Kennedy clearly recognized the deterrent value of 
maintaining balanced military capabilities. He reasoned 
that a strong conventional force was not in itself the 
ultimate deterrent. It could, however, be used in crisis 
escalation to make the nuclear deterrent a more viable one. 
The nuclear option would not represent the first, and 
sometimes only, option as had been the case in the previous 

In adopting the "domino theory," and Eisenhower's 
penchant for covert operations, Kennedy inherited 
considerable foreign policy baggage from the outgoing 
administration. In an Oval Office meeting just prior to the 
1961 inauguration, Eisenhower laid out in plain terms for 
Kennedy what he felt should be the incoming President's top 
foreign policy priority: the containment of Communist 
expansionism-'Specifically, in Laos, which would give the 
Soviets a base from which to expand into Southeast Asia and 
into the western Pacific; and, more importantly, in Cuba, 
located a mere ninety miles off the Florida coast. 

Eisenhower intimated that it was the President's 
responsibility to overthrow Fidel Castro by whatever means 
necessary.'’ The foundation was being laid for critical 
decisions which would be made a few short months i.nto 
Kennedy's Presidency. 


within days of assuming the White House, President 
Kennedy's newly appointed Defense Secretary, Robert S. 
McNamara, admitted in a Pentagon press conference that no 
"missile gap" existed with the Soviet Union. Contradicting 
one of Kennedy's principal campaign themes, the new 
President's credibility was immediately brought into 
question. To complicate matters further, Cuba was publicly 
flaunting its developing relationship with the Soviet Union 
and Fidel Castro was practically daring anyone to invade. 

His credibility already shaken, Kennedy was now facing 
constituents to whom he had pledged during his campaign to 
he tough on Castro.While campaigning, Kennedy went so 
far as to proclaim that some sort of operation should be 
undertaken to cause the removal of Castro. He did so 
unaware that Eisenhower had initiated the planning for just 
such an operation.Kennedy believed he had no choice. 

He felt he had to act to regain the credibility of his 
fledgling presidency and make good on campaign promises. 

Thus the seeds were sown for the first test of the Kennedy 
doctrine, a doctrine that by its nature demanded a proactive 
course of action. 

While the United States was developing a clear 
nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union, President 
Kennedy's relationship with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev 
was becoming increasingly antagonistic. Kennedy's strategic 
doctrine was inconspicuously evolving into one in which a 

nuclear first strike was not categorically rejected. In 
late March 1962, the Kennedy doctrine suggested that 
although it was not the policy of the United States to 
strike first, "Khrushchev must not be certain that, where 
its vital interests are threatened, the United States will 
never strike first. It was against this backdrop of 
increasing international tension and the demonstrated 
American willingness to support military activities ovex'seas 
(as in the Bay of Pigs and in Southeast Asia) that events 
were rapidly snowballing toward the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

Evolution of the Role of the Military 
From the outset, President Kennedy's pragmatic view 
of the interdependence between the military and diplomacy in 
foreign affairs served as the driving force behind the use 
of arms as the genesis for his "flexible response" strategy. 
Despite an increased role for the military, Kennedy tempered 
what might have appeared to be a step toward a foreign 
policy dominated by options conceived by the military, by 
ensuring a clearer civilian control of the military and 
military policy formulation. With clear guidance from 
Kennedy, it was left to Defense Secretary McNamara to 
formulate the strategic doctrine from which the military's 
role in foreign policy would be more precisely defined 
during his administration.''^ 

Despite attempts to make it appear otherwise, 
evidence suggests Kennedy was not always willing to allow 


diplomacy to run its course before committing the military. 
His administration employed the military as an instrument of 
foreign policy at a greater rate than any other postwar 
President: 39 times (13 per year), compared to 35 (4 per 

year) for Truman, and 57 for Eisenhower (7 per year). 

During the Kennedy Presidency, defense expenditures 
increased by 13 percent over the Eisenhower Administration. 
The net result of Kennedy's "flexible response" strategy was 
to make the military an attractive option in most 

In contrast to his belief in the use of military 
power, Kennedy's perception of the military as an 
organization when he entered the White House was one of 
contempt. This feeling was shaped by both his association 
with the "New Frontiersman," and his own military experience 
during World War II, The "New Frontier" was a phrase coined 
by Kennedy during his nomination acceptance speech which 
came to define the legion of advisors he brought with him to 
Washington. They were young by Washington standards, most 
had military experience in World War II, and as a group, had 
an almost universal contempt for a military they perceived 
to be an entrenched bureaucratic institution. They looked 
upon the military as an inflexible bureaucracy where one had 
to endure great pains to get anything accomplished. Using 
World War II as the source of their experience, they 
professed to have a complete understanding of national goals 


and the military's role in the attainment of those goals. 

In their minds, they thus had only marginal use for the 
advice of senior military officers.’’^ 

Kennedy's own World War II experience was short, but 
nevertheless, eventful. The experience revealed his early, 
less than favorable impression of the military hierarchy. 

In letters home while assigned to a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) 
squadron, and later while hospitalized by the Navy, Kennedy 
wrote of his disgust for military inefficiency and mistrust 
of senior officers. This perception, fueled by his 
contemporaries, made him skeptical of the value of advice he 
would receive from his Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

His early dealings with the military did little to 
engender the trust or mutual respect that would have given 
Kennedy reason to include senior military officers in his 
inner circle of advisors. Foreign policy and military 
strategy formulation was done almost exclusively with his 
civilian advisors. Additionally, in an attempt to minimize 
damage in United States/Soviet relations after the false 
missile gap was revealed by his Defense Secretary, Kennedy 
ordered the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh 
Burke, to end the anti-Soviet rhetoric he was well known for 
on the lecture circuit. This last fact, referred to by some 
Republicans on Capitol Hill as "gag rule diplomacy," was 
leaked to the press, further straining an already tenuous 
relationship between Kennedy and the military."'^ This is 


the environment in which the Bay of Pigs operation was 

The Bay of Pigs operation was exclusively a CIA 
conceived plan. Yet, as with most major disasters, there 
was sufficient blame to share with any organization remotely 
associated with its implementation. Some of the blame, 
whether justified or not, was directed at the military. 
President Kennedy was seemingly convinced that the early 
misgivings he had concerning the military establishment, 
particularly the quality of advice he would receive from its 
senior leadership, were well founded. Although he would 
continue to use the military as his primary foreign policy 
tool, the principal deliberations which would ultimately 
lead to their deployment would be done with little input 
from the uniformed services. 

To investigate the reasons for failure at the Bay of 
Pigs, President Kennedy asked General Maxwell D. Taylor, 
former Army Chief of Staff, to come out of retirement to 
chair the Cuba Study Group. In a letter to Taylor which set 
forth the charter of the Study Group, Kennedy made only 
passing mention of the Bay of Pigs. His preoccupation was 
with improving the military's capability to conduct 
guerrilla, anti-guerrilla and paramilitary activities.”"® 

It is these types of activities that would define the 
military's predominant role under Kennedy during the period 
leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. 


Bitterly disappointed with the advice he received 
from the military during the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy 
pursued one of General Taylor's recommendations by meeting 
with his Joint Chiefs to define their roles further. As his 
principal military advisors, they were responsible for 
providing the President with complete and unfiltered advice. 
Additionally, their advice should not be purely military but 
also should consider political, economic and psychological 
factors. In short, the military should be made to feel a 
certain sense of responsibility for the outcome of the Cold 
War."*’ Even as Kennedy's relationship with the military 
matured, the credibility he would attach to their advice 
would be prejudiced by the Bay of Pigs. 

Based on General Taylor's work with the Cuba Study 
Group, coupled with the fact he had authored a book. The 
Uncertain Trumpet , which outlined what the General 
considered inadequacies with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
Kennedy offered Taylor a position in his administration. He 
was assigned the newly created position of Military 
Representative of the President. His role would be to serve 
as an advisor or military matters but with no command 
authority.This position allowed a military man into 
Kennedy's inner circle of trusted advisors, but did nothing 
to solidify the President's relationship with the remainder 
of the military hierarchy, or further define their roles. 


The months between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban 
Missile Crisis saw Kennedy turn his attention primarily to 
Southeast Asia where again his principal instrument was the 
military. In a fate that befell more than one 
administration, the role of the military in Vietnam was 
never clearly defined, and, therefore, there was nothing 
tangible with which to measure the successes or failures of 
American military employment in the region. President 
Kennedy never clearly articulated his administration's 
political objectives in South Vietnam. With the Bay of Pigs 
serving as his introduction to foreign policy decision¬ 
making, Kennedy was clearly reluctant to pursue any course 
of action which would make him appear weak. Nothing came 
out of Kennedy's Vietnam experience which would appreciably 
change the President's perception of the military. 

When the post of Supreme Allied Commander of NATO 
became vacant. President Kennedy offered the job to General 
Taylor. He declined, stating that he had long neglected 
responsibilities at home due to his numerous overseas 
assignments and desired to remain stateside. The President 
then nominated the current Chairman, General Lyman 
Lemnitzer, to the NATO post, opening the way for General 
Taylor's eventual nomination to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff. The President was finally able to begin shaping 
the Joint Chiefs with men of his own choosing.The value 
of General Taylor's return to uniform became evident as the 

events of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. During 
Executive Committee (EXCOMM) meetings throughout the Missile 
Crisis, General Taylor was typically the only military 
representative present. The role of the military during the 
Missile Crisis, unlike the Bay of Pigs, would be clearly 

Research Design 
Kennedy Decision-Making 

The basis for this study is a historical review of 
events which caused decisions to be made within the Kennedy 
White House which ultimately resulted in the deployment of 
the military in the conduct of foreign policy. 

Specifically, the events which are covered are the Bay of 
Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The primary avenue of 
research will focus on how President Kennedy arrived at his 
decisions, and, once doing so, how effectively he employed 
the military in pursuit of his policies. 

The first chapter has provided a background study on 
what has been loosely defined by some historians as the 
Kennedy Doctrine. Kennedy's reasoning for his pursuit of a 
"flexible response" strategy and the evolution of the 
military's role in the execution of his strategy are 
included in the chapter. 

Chapter Two examines the Bay of Pigs and the 
implications that the operation had on Kennedy's 
relationship with the military. . Military successes and 


failures, as the operation unfolded, are also examined. 
Insomuch as the Bay of Pigs invasion plan was conceived 
during the Eisenhower Administration, a detailed description 
of the plans' evolution prior to Kennedy's ascendancy to the 
Presidency is included. This is done to provide background 
on the multitude of factors which will eventually answer the 
question which concludes the chapter: Why the Bay of Pigs? 

Chapter Three describes the transition period 
between the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis with 
particular focus on how the resultant Kennedy decision¬ 
making apparatus affected the military. Political and 
diplomatic fallout from the Bay of Pigs is also included to 
illustrate the relationship between the two events. 
Disregarding the eventual outcome of the Cuban Missile 
Crisis, an analysis of the military role during the crisis 
concludes the chapter. This analysis is done in the context 
of Kennedy's role in managing the crisis and military 
actions taken short of war. Recent Soviet revelations of 
actual troop strengths on the island provide a good 
barometer for United States military preparations. 

The final chapter provides the analysis and 
conclusion. Extensive research has been done which defines 
Kennedy's decision-making style during the Cuban Missile 
Crisis in one of several decision-making models. While 
these provided useful background on the various motivators 
for decision-makers, they have, as a whole, been 


exhaustively researched and critiqued, put too little focus 
on the military implications of decisions, and almost 
entirely disreg^.^d the Bay of Pigs. Therefore, the analysis 
in this study is weighted toward pragmatic, event oriented 
decision-making which focuses on the personality traits of 
the decision-maker. 

The analysis is also more in keeping with recently 
published accounts of President Kennedy which tend to 
portray a generally less favorable impression of his 
performance than was previously thought to be the case. 

This was particularly prevalent during the many crises of 
his Administration. This was not done with malice of 
forethought; however, in researching Kennedy's relationship 
with the military, and the manner in which he conducted 
himself during military crises, numerous shortcomings in his 
performance become evident. This, of course, must be 
tempered by the ultimate success of the Cuban Missile Crisis 
and the Cold War mindset which so dominated the era. 

Literature Review 

As anticipated, there exists a wealth of information 
on the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is somewhat less on the 
Bay of Pigs; however, it is sufficient for the study of 
Kennedy decision-making as it relates to the employment of 
the military. The primary source materials have largely 
been works by individuals who were in the Kennedy 
Administration. These include Raymond L. Garthoff's 


Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis . Robert F. Kennedy's 

Th irteen Days , Arthur M. Schlesinger's A Thousand Days: John 
F. Kennedy in the White House . Theodore C. Sorensen's 
Kennedy , and General Maxwell D. Taylor's Swords and 
Plowshares . The later three books cover both events. With 
the exception of Garthoff (whose book was revised in 1989 to 
include Soviet and Cuban sources), these books were written 
by Kennedy intimates and are almost exclusively laudatory in 
their examination of President Kennedy and his decisions. 

Recent authors have been much more critical of 
Kennedy and provide a nice counter-balance to the writings 
listed above. These include Michael R. Beschloss's The 
Crisis Years; Kennedy and Khrushchev 1960-1963 . Robert 
Smith Thompson's The Missiles of October; The Declassified 
Story of John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis , and 
Thomas G. Paterson's Kennedy's Quest for Victory; American 
Foreign Policy, 1961-1963 . 

In addition to some of the books listed above, the 
primary source for the Bay of Pigs has been Peter Wyden's 
Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story . 

Three books provide a good foundation for the 
primary focus of the research design: Essence of Decision: 
Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham T. Allison; 
Foreign Policy Crisis: Appearance and Reality in Decision- 
Making by Thomas Harper and; Thinking In Time: The Uses of 


History for Decision Makers by Richard E. Neustadt and 
Ernest R. May. 

Numerous additional books, government documents, 
transcripts of meetings, magazine and newspaper articles, 
previous research papers and television documentaries were 
used to round out the primary and secondary source material. 




Prelude to Disaster 

In 1961, world politics were dominated by the cold 
war. The Soviet Union was making inroads in Africa, 
Communist insurgencies were poised to take over in Laos and 
establish a stronghold in Southeast Asia, and in the Western 
Hemisphere, Fidel Castro's Cuban revolution was drifting 
undeniably to the left. Most Americans felt the formation 
of a Communist state in the Caribbean created an 
unacceptable security threat to the United States. 
Overwhelming popular opinion favored some sort of response 
from the United States Government.^ 

United States options in Cuba were becoming 
increasingly limited as anti-Americanism was taking hold as 
the central theme of Castro's social revolution. As early 
as March 1959, there were indications from within the Castro 
Government that the Cuban revolution was being driven toward 
Communism in both structure and foreign relations. 
Additionally, it appeared that Cuba was purposely being 
portrayed as an enemy of the United States.^ Publicly, 
Castro's anti-American rhetoric was based on a Latin, not 
Communist, view of the United States' perceived dominance in 


the region. Castro was a charismatic and astute politician 
who was exceptionally popular among most working-class Latin 
Americans. He was able to convince large followings that 
any link between his revolution and Communism was more of 
the usual Washington propaganda of associating all Latin 
reformers with Communists.^ 

Despite what appeared to be open hostility toward 
the United States and an attempt at provocation by Cuba, the 
Eisenhower administration chose to pursue a course of 
moderation in public. In January 1960, the Eisenhower White 
House issued a statement detailing a policy it had no 
intention of following. Its key points were as follows; 

(1) the United States's reiteration of its commitment to its 
treaty obligations of non-intervention; (2) that, although 
it was recognized that Cuban territory had been used as a 
point of departure to launch illegal actions in other 
countries, it would not allow the use of United States 
territories to be used as staging grounds for any actions 
against Cuba; (3) expressed concern at the unsubstantiated 
accusations being directed at the United States by Cuban 
authorities; (4) recognized Cuba's sovereign right under 
international law to pursue its own domestic reforms; and 
(5) a declaration that the United States had a right to 
defend the rights of its citizens in Cuba after they had 
"exhausted their remedies under Cuban law."^ Privately, 
President Eisenhower and his advisors were discussing a wide 


range of options to dispose of Castro. In one White House 
meeting, a clearly frustrated Eisenhower stated that "Castro 
begins to look like a madman," and intimated that he was 
willing to impose a unilateral blockade on Cuba absent 
cooperation from the Organization of American States 

The guise under which Eisenhower's public policy was 
being undertaken lasted but a few weeks. Eisenhower wanted 
to finish his Presidency in a peaceful atmosphere; however, 
that desire was rapidly being overcome by events. The 
election year in the United States resulted in the 
electorate's increasing focus on Cuba and Communist 
expansion. In February, Soviet Deputy Premier Anastas 
Mikoyan paid a state visit to Havana. Provoking the United 
States further, Castro alleged that Americans were 
responsible for an explosion on a French munitions ship 
anchored in Havana harbor which resulted in the loss of 

Increased Soviet intervention in Cuba further 
inflamed the hostilities. In May 1960, Khrushchev 
insinuated that the "Monroe Doctrine 'has died a natural 
death' and should be interred as a stinking corpse," while 
also announcing that any "American aggression" against Cuba 
would lead to a response from the Soviet Union.^ Any 
pretense of a peaceful coexistence between Castro and the 
United States was completely put to rest. The formulation 


and eventual implementation of a covert operation to 
overthrow Castro was given new life. 

By this time, President Eisenhower had already 
assigned the task of solving the "Cuban problem" to the 
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). On 17 March 1960, 
Eisenhower authorized the Director of the CIA, Allen W. 
Dulles, to implement a program to create, train, and equip a 
guerrilla force to overthrow the government of Fidel 
Castro.® The CIA program had four parts: (1) "creation of 
a 'responsible and unified' Cuban government in exile;" (2) 
“a powerful propaganda offensive;" (3) "a covert 
intelligence and action organization in Cuba that would be 
responsive to the government in exile;" and (4) "a 
paramilitary force outside of Cuba for future guerilla 
action."’ Eisenhower was particularly fond of the first 
part of the program; indicating a desire to find a "Cuban 
leader living in exile" who could direct the activities of 
the paramilitary forces, and eventually "form a government 
that the United States could recognize.The decision to 
use the CIA as the lead agency in addressing potential 
foreign policy initiatives was in keeping with the 
administration's propensity toward low cost, covert 
diplomatic efforts. 

Richard M. Bissell, Jr., the CIA's deputy director 
for plans, was placed in charge of the Cuba operation and 
was the principal author of the four point program. He had 


been a key contributor to the CIA's successful 1954 coup in 
Guatemala/^ and had been in charge of the program that 
resulted in the production of the famous U-2 photographic- 
reconnaissance spy plane.Armed with these credentials, 
the Cuba "program" gained instant credibility among 
Eisenhower advisors. 

The top-secret plan, officially titled, “A Program 
of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime," also called for 
"a small air supply capability under deep cover as a 
commercial operation in another country." The official 
estimate was that the entire operation would be functional 
in six to eight months.Further fueling the plan's 
momentum were members of the National Security Council (NSC) 
who were becoming increasingly outspoken in their desire to 
see the Castro government replaced. One individual who was 
particularly interested in the success of the plan was the 
1960 Republican Presidential candidate, and then-Vice 
President, Richard M. Nixon.With the CIA given such a 
free reign and broad mandate, the planning and execution of 
what was to become the Bay of Pigs was in full swing. 

From the outset, President Eisenhower's 
predisposition against the use of overt military force as an 
option in securing political objectives provided the impetus 
for a military plan that ultimately had little Pentagon 
input. To ensure a suitable probability for the success of 
such a plan, the institutional momentum that was generated 


by an agency (CIA) operating in a vacuum would require close 
scrutiny and an unambiguous desired end state articulated by 
the ultimate decision-maker. In the waning days of his 
Presidency, Eisenhower sensed no urgency to provide either. 
Eisenhower's decision was not a political one, but one 
balanced by his seemingly genuine desire to provide his 
successor with a workable option for resolving the Cuba 
dilemma without committing American troops or adversely 
affecting world opinion. The political consequences were an 
issue for Kennedy to resolve. 

Kennedy Transition 

President-elect Kennedy's first official exposure to 
the CIA's invasion plan was during Oval Office pre-inaugural 
talks with President Eisenhower in December 1960. His 
opponent in the election, Vice President Nixon, claimed 
Kennedy was aware of the plan as early as July of that year. 
Some recent writings suggest that Kennedy may have known as 
early as Nixon indicated;^^ however, no evidence exits to 
verify this.”'* To Nixon, the facts regarding what Kennedy 
may have known about the plan, and at what point he became 
aware of its existence, were central to the campign. 

To counter a Nixon charge during the campaign that 
Kennedy was soft on communism, Kennedy speech writer, 

Richard Goodwin, released a statement to the press (which he 
attributed to Kennedy) which read in part: "We must attempt 
to strengthen the non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces 


in exile, and in Cuba itself, who offer eventual hope of 
overthrowing Castro. Thus far these fighters for freedom 
have had virtually no support from our government."''^ 

Kennedy, having already gone to bed for the evening, had not 
seen the statement before it was released. He did not 
retract it, however, because it was in keeping with the 
exchange he had with Nixon the previous day. When Nixon 
called for a "quarantine" of Cuba, Kennedy countered that 
Nixon's proposal was "too little, too late," and (perhaps 
oblivious that such a plan existed) called for direct 
intervention in Cuba.^® 

Nixon was furious. He fully suspected that Kennedy 
was aware of the CIA invasion plans and felt his reckless 
comments were "jeopardizing the security of the United 
States foreign policy operation."''^ Kennedy continued his 
assault when, during a televised debate, he criticized the 
Republican administration for allowing communism to 
establish a foothold "only ninety miles off the coast of the 
United States." Fearing that any comments he might make 
could endanger the planned operation, Nixon could only 
retort that Kennedy was being overly reckless in his foreign 
policy views. In a comment that was to prove prophetic, 
Nixon further stated, that backing the "freedom fighters" 
would have the United States "condemned in the United 
Nations," and would amount to "an open invitation for Mr. 
Khrushchev... to come into Latin America.The ninety 


miles comment, and Nixon's seemingly timid response captured 
the imagination of the voters. Kennedy concluded that, "if 
elected, he would do something about it, not just stand 
still.Kennedy was seemingly convincing himself that 
Cuba required immediate action upon his inauguration. Co¬ 
existence and the status quo were not part of his campaign 

It is highly speculative to suggest that the 
revelation of the fact that Kennedy may have been aware of 
plans for an invasion of Cuba—and Nixon's subsequent 
campaign performance—were significant contributors to the 
outcome of the election. Nevertheless, the event served to 
further politicize the deliberations which eventually 
resulted in the decision by Kennedy to undertake the Bay of 
Pigs operation. 

After the campaign rhetoric subsided with Kennedy's 
election, President Eisenhower had hoped the last ten weeks 
of his Administration would see him in a caretaker role. He 
proposed no new initiatives, but worked to maintain as many 
options open as possible so as not to tie the hands of the 
incoming president.He developed a somewhat indifferent 
attitude toward the invasion option of the CIA plan,^^ and 
assured President-elect Kennedy that he had no wish of 
“turning over the government in the midst of a developing 
emergency.Additionally, President Eisenhower was 
getting a mixed endorsement of the plan from the military. 


They had not been involved in the planning, knew little of 
it/ and therefore seemed to be distancing themselves from 
its execution. They were in agreement with former General 
Eisenhower's military philosophy "that one did not ever use 
military power unless you were prepared to use it to the 
full extent necessary to achieve whatever the objective was 
that you started for."^® 

President Eisenhower's desire for a peaceful 
transition ended on 2 January 1961, when Castro, accusing 
American Embassy staff members of being spies, ordered 
eighty percent of them to leave the country within twenty- 
four hours.Not consulting President-elect Kennedy, 
Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. This 
well-publi 2 ed event added to the already growing public 
demand for action which Kennedy helped create during his 
campaign for the presidencyIn private, Eisenhower 
directed Bissell and the CIA to increase the size of the 
refugee force and step up preparations. However, the 
outgoing President was resigned to "turn over our 
responsibility on the twentieth," while declaring, "our 
successors should continue to improve and intensify the 
training and undertake planning when the Cubans are 
themselves properly organized."^® 

By the time Kennedy entered office, the tentative 
plans of ten months prior had developed into full-blown 
invasion preparations. Under the energetic CIA leadership 


of Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell the plan had taken on 
"impressive proportions," and seemed to have developed its 
"own self-contained dynamics.Not only had Kennedy 
inherited the "Cuba problem," he had a covert army at his 
disposal should he choose to employ it. With his action- 
oriented campaigning and anti-communist posturing, Kennedy 
seemed to reason that some course of action was required. 

He made no effort to dissuade the continuing preparations of 
the CIA plan and, in fact, seemed intrigued by its continued 

Kennedy's Plan 

On November 18, 1960, CIA Director, Allen Dulles and 
his deputy, Richard Bissell gave President-elect Kennedy his 
first full intelligence briefing. Bissell provided the 
details of the ongoing invasion preparations. Kennedy 
seemed surprised only by the size of the operation; he gave 
no indication that he did not fully endorse the plan. 

During the course of the briefing, Bissell and Dulles 
reminded Kennedy that "Soviet military aid was now flowing 
into Cuba: the longer an invasion was postponed, the more 
difficult it would be."^° Kennedy's only perceptible 
hesitancy was his desire to consider the matter further 
before committing to it. By his acquiescence he was 
adopting the plan as his own. 

Indeed, it was not until two days later that 
President Eisenhower was briefed on the true size of the 


expanding invasion force and the developing paramilitary 
concept of the operation. The new plan called for a landing 
of over 600 men and was to be preceded by air strikes. 

After the briefing, Dulles was left with the impression that 
Eisenhower wanted preparations for the operation 
“expedited."^"' When Kennedy was briefed by the CIA 
director about these same specifics on 29 November, he also 
agreed that Dulles should expedite the project.^^ 

Riding into the White House on the wave of the Cuba 
problem, Kennedy could hardly relegate the issue to the back 
burner. The topic was seemingly brought up at every public 
appearance. In his first press conference following the 
inauguration, Kennedy responded to a question about Castro 
by indicating that at present, the United States had no 
plans to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba.^^ His 
State of the Union Message, delivered four days later, made 
numerous references to the Cold War, and called for a 
strengthening of the military to support the beginnings of 
his flexible response strategy. Referring specifically to 
Cuba, Kennedy commented, "Communist agents seeking to 
exploit that region's peaceful revolution of hope have 
established a base on Cuba, only ninety miles from our 
shores.... Communist domination in this hemisphere can never 
be negotiated. 

To reestablish confidence in his administration 
after the false "missile gap" was revealed, the new 


President felt the need for rapid action. To do nothing 
would be a sign of weakness, and could potentially ham his 
credibility abroad. By continuing the strong anti-Communist 
rhetoric that got him into office, and supporting a stronger 
defense, Kennedy wanted to make certain that American power 
was not only sufficient, but was recognized as such around 
the world.^® 

A credible conventional military capability able to 
respond quickly to a limited war scenario, was 
potentially developing in the Caribbean, was the type of 
force Kennedy championed as a candidate and vigorously 
pursued as he entered the White House. To what degree he 
was willing to use that force, particularly in a situation 
that did not necessarily demand American involvement, was a 
question Kennedy failed to address in his transition to 
power. The Bay of Pigs would be his first opportunity to 
test his evolving doctrine. 

Kennedy's Decision 

On January 22, 1961, Allen Dulles and General Lyman 
Lemnitzer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 
briefed the leading members of the new administration on the 
Cuba project. Within a week. President Kennedy presided 
over his first meeting on the plan in the White House. This 
meeting was the first time all the members of the Joint 
Chiefs were officially introduced to the plan. After the 
meeting, Kennedy directed the Department of Defense to 


report on the military concept of the plan, and the State 
Department, working through the OAS, to prepare diplomatic 
options for Cuba.^* 

General Lemnitzer's role in the early meetings may 
have lent a certain military credibility to the plan that 
was not justified. The planning had been ongoing for months 
with little military input. Kennedy's direction to the 
military at this juncture was significant in that it got the 
Pentagon's senior leadership officially involved in the 
operation. The President did not, however, adequately 
define what the military's role would be, thereby 
suppressing what should have been a more candid review of 
the plan by the JCS. 

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported on 3 
February with a document entitled, "Military Evaluation of 
the CIA Paramilitary Plan-Ciba." The JCS rated the plan as 
having a "fair" chance of military success, but ultimately, 
the report stated, the overall success of the plan would 
depend on a considerable uprising from within the island or 
substantial support from additional forces. The report 
further stated that due to the complex nature of the 
operation, "an independent evaluation of the combat 
effectiveness of the invasion forces and detailed analysis 
of logistics plans should be made by a team of army r sic 1 , 
naval r sic 1 and Air Force officers.To maintain 


secrecy, Kennedy denied the JCS an opportunity to staff the 
project further.^® 

President Kennedy's penchant for extreme secrecy was 
a trait that would prove common in most foreign policy 
deliberations which eventually resulted in his decision to 
deploy the military. To a large and unfortunate degree, it 
served to insulate him from information which would prove 
valuable in his decision-making. While national security 
considerations were the convenient explanation, in the case 
of the ongoing Cuba invasion preparations, maintaining 
feasible deniability was the overriding factor. The lack of 
access to key information served further to hamper military 
preparations for whatever role the military may be called 
upon to perform. 

After the limited military review of the plan, 
Richard Bissell presented the JCS position to the President. 
Clearly biased in favor of a plan in which he had vested so 
much effort, Bissell's persuasive and energetic briefings 
had the desired effect. Kennedy Special Assistant and 
historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote of Bissell's 
briefings; "we all listened transfixed--in this meeting and 
ot'ier meetings which followed—fascinated by the workings of 
this superbly clear, organized and articulate intelligence, 
while Bissell, pointer in hand, would explain how the 
invasion would work or discourse on the relative merits of 
alternative landing points."®’ With only limited and 


somewhat muted opposition by the military, the CIA plan was 
increasingly gaining support within the administration. 

When dissent among Kennedy advisors was voiced 
during the deliberations leading to the final decision, 

Allen Dulles would join in the effort to relieve the 
President's fears. In one exchange, Dulles told Kennedy, 
"Mr. President, I know you're doubtful about this, but I 
stood at this very desk and said to President Eisenhower 
about a similar operation in Guatemala, 'I believe it will 
work.' And I say to you now, Mr. President, that the 
prospects for this plan are even better than our prospects 
were in Guatemala."^ 

Ultimately, what may have kept the operation alive 
was the very reason that would eventually cause its failure: 
the attempt by the United States Government to maintain 
deniability throughout the execution of the plan. What 
would be done with the hundreds of men training in Guatemala 
for the invasion of Cuba? Disbanding them would undoubtedly 
expose the CIA operation, revealing how the United States 
had planned to dispose of Castro, then lost its nerve. The 
effect, Dulles pointed out, would be to discredit the United 
States, dishearten Castro opponents, and eventually "produce 
pro-Castro revolutions all around the Caribbean. 

Deniability was particularly important to Kennedy 
for he wanted to dispose of Castro without expending any 
political capital, particularly overseas. To be cast in the 


light of an imperialist Yankee would end any hopes for the 
"Alliance for Progress" he proposed in his inaugural 
address. Privately, Kennedy was concerned that if American 
military force was committed against Cuba, Khrushchev might 
retaliate with Soviet military force in Berlin. Finally, 
Kennedy feared the sight of American military power on Cuban 
soil might result in another Hungary.^ 

The consensus among Kennedy advisors seemed to be 
that something had to be done, but it had to be made to 
appear that the United States was not involved. On 11 
March, Bissell presentrd the CIA's Trinidad plan. The plan 
called for a combined amphibious/airborne assault at 
Trinidad supported by tactical airpower. Kennedy opposed 
the plan as "too spectacular," saying it resembled an 
amphibious invasion from World War II. He wanted a quiet 
landing, done preferably at night, with plans drawn up that 
required no intervention from the United States military. 

He recognized that the principal stumbling block with 
maintaining a plan that was deniable would be the tradeoffs 
between military and political risks. He wanted a plan that 
would bring the two into better balance 

CIA planners provided three alternative landing 
sites. The least objectionable of these was in the Zapata 
area adjacent to the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Of 
the three, the JCS also preferred the Zapata plan due to its 
available airstrips, and because restricted access to the 


area provided a natural defense for the invaders. The JCS's 
first preference, however, remained the original Trinidad 
plan. Kennedy agreed to the Bay of Pigs plan but ordered 
that the "noise level" be further reduced by ensuring that 
all invasion ships be off-loaded at night. The President 
withheld formal approval, but told the CIA to continue 
planning under the assumption that the invasion would be 
carried out. Additionally, he directed that planning be 
continued in such a manner that it would allow him to cancel 
the operation as late as twenty-four hours prior to D- 

Contributing to the President's indecisiveness was 
the growing dissent among his advisors and others from whom 
he sought counsel. The greatest dissenters were Arkansas 
Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman of the Senate Foreign 
Relations Committee, and special assistant Schlesinger, both 
of whom provided the President with unsolicited written 
memoranda outlining their objections to the plan. Fulbright 
denounced the plan outright, urging a policy of containment. 
With newspapers increasingly forecasting an invasion, the 
plan was anything but a secret. He considered it 
inconceivable that the United States could convince the 
world of non-complicity in the operation. Even if 
successful, Fulbright reasoned, "it would be denounced from 
the Rio Grande to Patagonia as an example of imperialism... 

we would have undone the work of thirty years in trying to 
live down earlier interventions."*® 

Schlesinger's concerns were twofold. He held the 
same belief that the United States would be unable to 
dissociate itself from the Cuban invaders. Additionally, he 
was concerned that little evidence existed to indicate that 
the invasion would "touch off a mass insurrection" against 
Castro rather than turn into a protracted civil war. He 
added that it would be politically difficult not "to send in 
the Marines," should the rebels call for U.S. armed 
assistance.** On the point concerning insurrection, CIA 
intelligence reports continued to sound positive for those 
in favor of the operation. 

As late as 30 March the CIA was painting a favorable 
picture. The weekly intelligence summary of that day 
reported an increase in anti-Castro terrorist bombings and 
other accounts of attempted sabotage. That corroborated an 
intelligence report that stated, "the shortage of basic food 
and household items, felt by all levels of society, is 
causing increasing dissatisfaction...."*^ 

With the D-Day of 5 April rapidly approaching, the 
CIA was anxious for a decision. Allen Dulles described how 
heavy rains would descend on the Caribbean islands by the 
end of April, necessarily delaying the invasion for weeks. 

By then, Dulles reasoned, the Cubans would have even more 
Soviet weapons at their disposal.*® The President left for 


Florida to spend the Easter weekend having only made the 
decision to postpone D-Day to 10 April. The date of the 
invasion would later be moved once again to 17 April. 

When Kennedy returned to Washington on 4 April, his 
closest advisors expressed amazement at the President's 
change in attitude about the Cuba operation. McGeorge 
Bundy, the President's Special Assistant for National 
Security Affairs, noted a great deal of skepticism in 
Kennedy about the plan before he flew to Florida. 

Schlesinger expressed a similar view, indicating the 
President seemed dubious about the invasion of Cuba before 
the Easter weekend. Bundy recalled, that upon the 
President's return, he “really wanted to do this...when he 
came to the moment of truth—the decision to go or not go— 
he made up his mind and told us. He didn't ask us."^° The 
pace of meetings amongst Kennedy insiders accelerated, and 
the CIA continued to press its case against further delays. 
All indications were that Kennedy was prepared to make a 
formal decision. 

With everything seemingly in place for a 
Presidential decision, on 7 April the New York Times 
reported that an invasion of Cuba was imminent. The 
article, with the accompanying headline, "Invasion Reported 
Near," reported that invasion preparations were nearly 
complete. Clearly angered, Kennedy told his press 
secretary, Pierre Salinger, "Castro doesn't need agents over 


here, all he has to do is read our papers. It's all laid 
out for him."®”' 

Short of calling off the invasion, Kennedy believed 
his only recourse was to distance himself from the ongoing 
preparations, and allay any doubts that the U.S. military 
was actively involved in operations leading to an invasion. 

A few short months into his Presidency, Kennedy did not have 
the decision-making apparatus in place to balance the 
concern for his public image with the military significance 
of the decision he was about to make. 

On 12 April President Kennedy held a press 
conference to air these views. In response to the 
anticipated question about the invasion of Cuba, Kennedy 

First, I want to say that there will not be, 
under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the 
United States Armed Forces. This Government will do 
everything it possibly can, and I think it can meet 
its responsibilities to make sure there are no 
Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba.... 

The basic issue in Cuba is not one between the 
United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans 
themselves. I intend to see that we adhere to that 
principle and as I understand it this 
administration's attitude is so understood and 
shared by the anti-Castro exiles from Cuba in this 

With this pronouncement, Kennedy may have 
inadvertently made the decision that eventually doomed the 
invasion. That was the decision not to use American air 
power. As events eventually unfolded, it became abundantly 
clear that this was a pledge Kennedy intended to honor. 


Fully expecting otherwise, the President's declaration 
failed to illicit any undo concern from the plan's 
architects. Planning continued unabated. 

The final plans for the invasion were finally 
solidified. The invasion of 17 April would be proceeded by 
an air strike on the fifteenth. Under the guise of 
defecting Cuban pilots, CIA trained B-26 crews were to 
attack three airfields to neutralize the Cuban Air Force. 
After an interval of two days to assess the damage, a second 
strike was to be conducted at dawn on D-Day. 

On 14 April, the invasion fleet sailed from Puerto 
Cabezas in Nicaragua.®^ That afternoon, Kennedy called 
Bissell with approval for the air strikes against the three 
airfields. Bissell had planned to use sixteen aircraft. 
Kennedy responded, "I don't want it on that scale. I want 
it minimal."®^ At 2:28 the next morning, the first of six 
B-26s was set to take off from its staging base in 

Military Role 

The universal consensus points to generally three 
causes of failure at the Bay of Pigs; (1) faulty CIA 
planning; (2) President Kennedy's poor decisions before and 
during the operation; and (3) the limited role of the 
military in the planning and execution of the invasion. In 
the end, the operation that concluded in such total failure 
was a military one that, from its inception, was run almost 

exclusively by a civilian agency. The only subject that 
everyone involved seemed to agree on was the elimination of 
Castro as the primary goal of the invasion. 

Following the Bay of Pigs operation the Cuba Study 
Group, chaired by General Maxwell Taylor, concluded that 
four principal issues surfaced during the study: (1) “the 
inadequacy of the air support of the landing;” (2) "the 
failure of the Brigade, when defeated on the beaches, to 
break out into the interior in guerrilla bands;" (3) "the 
responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the military 
deficiencies;" and (4) "the contradictions in the 
understandings and attitudes of senior officials involved in 
the operation."^* The most controversial of these was the 
role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the responsibility 
they had in the success or failure of the operation. 

Had the JCS failed the Commander in Chief in their 
role as military advisors? Collectively, their response to 
the Study Group was that they had not. They argued that 
their role in the operation was a supporting one, charged 
solely with critiquing the CIA plan and providing limited 
assistance in training and logistic support. They claimed 
they were required to work under conditions in which even 
this modest support was difficult. Secrecy kept them from 
properly staffing any plans and providing detailed options. 
No records were taken at any meetings nor agendas circulated 
among the participants to assist in preparations. 


Additionally, the plan was revised so often that military 
planners did not see it in its final form until the day of 
the invasion.Each of these arguments have merit; 
however, the charge the JCS did not answer, and was 
certainly the perception of the civilian leadership after 
the fact, was that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had not been 
forceful enough in expressing their reservations about the 

Regarding the assertion that the JCS failed the new 
President by not rigorously expressing their concerns about 
the plan, there can be no escaping blame. If the military 
is to be judged as a contributing partner to the failure of 
the Bay of Pigs, it was during the planning phase when 
seemingly glaring shortcomings in the plan were not detailed 
to the President. For their part, the JCS were made to feel 
they had a minor role; therefore, their critique of the plan 
and briefings to the President were narrowly focused to 
strictly military considerations. Conversely, Kennedy 
failed to grasp that his decision amounted to the approval 
of a military operation and allowed political considerations 
to dominate his thinking. 

Despite these institutional perceptions of what the 
JCS role should have been, and what turned out to be limited 
participation and severe restrictions on planning, the 
military hierarchy continued to plan and make preparations 
for involvement. With the existence of an American naval 


base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the proximity of the 
United States to a potential Soviet staging base, the 
strategic implications were obvious. Although the Joint 
Chiefs had not been officially briefed on the invasion plans 
until January 1961, contingency planning had been ongoing 
for some time. 

Brigadier General David W. Gray, Chief of the Joint 
Subsidiary Activities Division of the Joint Chiefs, had been 
appointed to run a committee to study the various options 
available to overthrow Castro. This was being done without 
the knowledge that President Eisenhower had already directed 
the CIA to undertake a similar study. General Gray's 
committee produced a report. Joint Chiefs of Staff 
Memorandum (JCSM) 44-61, outlining six alternatives in 
ascending order of military involvement: (1) economic 
warfare, including sanctions and embargoes, and diplomatic 
pressure to isolate Cuba in concert with the Organization of 
American States; (2) naval blockade; (3) infiltration of a 
guerrilla force with covert U.S. military support; (4) a 
guerrilla force with overt United States back-up; (5) naval 
and air warfare with no invasion; and (6) unilateral all-out 

The study concluded that American involvement in any 
amount less than that recommended in step four would result 
in failure. The committee further recommended that an 
inter-agency staff group be formed to review all 


alternatives so that the President would have an overall 
plan from which to make a decision. The Cuba Study group 
reported, "this recommendation reached che Secretary of 
Defense but appears to have been lost in the activities 
arising out of the change in administration."®’ 

It was during this early planning process that 
members of the Joint Chiefs were becoming aware that a CIA 
operation was being developed. As early as October 1960, 
General Lemnitzer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had 
heard rumors concerning a “most highly secret operation" 
during informal discussions in the White House. He 
considered the discussions none of his business, and never 
pursued the issue.“ The same month, Chief of Naval 
Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, learned of CIA activities 
from Naval Intelligence sources in Guatemala and Nicaragua. 
General George Decker, the Army Chief of Staff, learned 
several weeks later when the operation had grown into plans 
for an invasion. And finally, the Marine Corps Commandant, 
General David Shoup, found out by accident when he 
discovered a large cache of rifles being prepared for 
shipment to a base in Texas. 

Throughout the planning, Bissell refused to call on 
the military for any assistance. This became particularly 
disturbing to the Navy when the CIA decided to expand into 
the business of amphibious warfare. This came to light when 
General Lemnitzer received a call from Admiral Robert L. 


Dennison, Commander in Chief Atlantic (CINCLANT). Admiral 
Dennison was none too amused to report that one of his 
commanders had been approached by the CIA with an order to 
requisition his vessel. Dennison demanded a brief. 

Lemnitzer professed to know little of what was going on and 
called Allen Dulles to arrange a brief for the Admiral. 

The CIA Director dispatched Bissell to the Admiral's 
headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, to deliver a “sketchy" 
summary of the operation. Dennison's anger was not abated 
when Bissell could not provide answers to the Admiral's 
queries about the Navy's responsibilities to protect the 
Guantanamo naval base or about the evacuation of U.S. 
citizens from the Cuban island. It was Dennison's suspicion 
that the CIA had not considered these details in their 
planning. His concerns were further heightened when, on 20 
December, he sent Washington 119 questions concerning the 
project and only twelve were answered. At this point, 
however, Dennison knew more about the operation than did the 
Chief of Naval Operations 

Owing to the extreme secrecy surrounding the 
evolving plan, these concerns never surfaced in the White 
House. A recurring theme throughout the planning stages was 
that the CIA's tightly controlled access had the net effect 
of diffusing criticism from the military. 

On 28 January 1961, during a National Security 
Council meeting, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were officially 

introc^uced to the CIA operation. General Gray, who had 
earlier chaired a committee to study military options in 
Cuba, was directed to chair the committee that would report 
on the military's review of the CIA plan as directed by the 
President. Gray's committee was hamstrung from the 
beginning. The CIA, with the President's concurrence, 
limited the circulation of the plan, making Gray's committee 
necessarily small. During the CIA briefing, the members of 
Gray's group were not permitted to take notes and were given 
no copies of the CIA plan itself. As a result, they were 
forced to reconstruct the briefing from memory to complete 
their report.*^ The resultant “fair chance" of success 
report was never fully explained. General Gray reported 
later that he meant 3 to 1 against success. This caveat was 
never offered to the CIA or the President.** The principal 
problem with the JCS repoit was that it sent no clear signal 
to the President concerning the true level of support within 
the military for or against the plan. Kennedy's dilemma wa= 
unchanged. Too much military intervention would reveal the 
true U.S. role in the operation; too little could doom the 
plan to failure. 

Unrelated to the development of the Bay of Pigs, the 
Navy had been stepping up its activity in the Caribbean to 
counter what it perceived to be a Soviet threat developing 
in Cuba. A standing naval force, made up of a destroyer 
squadron and Mar’'.e Amphibious Ready Group, was established 


and based in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Guantanamo Bay 
was being used with greater frequency to provide refresher 
training (intensive training in combat systems drills, 
engineering and damage control in preparation for overseas 
deployment) for Atlantic Fleet warships. 

When Admiral Dennison learned of the CIA's plan, he 
further increased activity in the region, and intensified 
his staff's contingency planning. He had no idea what role 
he would be playing but was certain he would be called upon. 
He directed surface ships undergoing training to conduct 
electronic surveillance, and used submarines, operating from 
their bases in Key West, to monitor shipping in and out of 
Cuba and conduct fact-finding missions of the Cuban coast. 
Further, Dennison requested assistance from the Commander, 
Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), through the JCS, for the 
protection of Key West. This lead to the conduct of 
Exercise "Southern Tip" in April 1961. This was a joint 
exercise which integrated forces under the Commander of the 
North American Air Defense (CONAD) and added them to the 
defense and surveillance of the south Florida coast.To 
avoid the perception of a military buildup all this activity 
was conducted under the guise of training and none of these 
assets were specifically targeted for use in the Bay of Pigs 

The anti-submarine warfare (ASW) carrier USS Essex 
(CVS 9) and her six ship ASW squadron were chosen to provide 

support for the invasion. The carrier was to embark a 
squadron of AD-4 Skyhawk jet aircraft and, along with five 
destroyers, were to escort the invasion fleet to a point 
outside the Bay of Pigs. The carrier was to stand off while 
two destroyers were to rendezvous with the Cuban ships and 
guard them against possible enemy interference. The 
commander of the task force, Rear Admiral John A. Clark, was 
under strict orders that he was not to fire a shot except in 
absolute self-defense. The squadron sailed from Norfolk, 
Virginia, under the cover of participating in anti-submarine 
warfare exercises scheduled in the Gulf of Mexico 3-18 

The Bay of Pigs operation quickly turned into the 
fiasco for which it is renowned. The limited air strike of 
15 April did not destroy the Cuban air force, but only 
served to alert Castro of the impending invasion. The 
resultant condemnation of United States actions in the 
United Nations caused Kennedy to cancel a second strike on 
the 15th and, perhaps more devastatingly, the air strikes 
that were to accompany the invaders on the 17th. The result 
was that the invaders met a fully prepared Castro with his 
air force nearly intact. The invasion was doomed without 
further U.S. intervention.*^ 

The carrier Essex stood poised to intervene but 
Kennedy refused. He also denied Admiral Burke's suggestion 
that offshore destroyers assist with naval gunfire. In a 


heated exchange Kennedy told the Admiral, "Burke, I don't 
want the United States involved in this." Admiral Burke's 
response was, "Hell, Mr. President, we are involved!"^ 

Late on the evening of the nineteenth the destroyer Eaton 
was ordered in to evacuate the invading forces survivors 

Without a clear United States milit.ary objective at 
the outset, or ultimately, a definitive role for the 
military during the operation, there is no quantifiable 
means by which to judge the success of American military 
actions at the Bay of Pigs. By all accounts. President 
Kennedy's employment of them was an unqualified disaster. 

The principal reason is that Kennedy unwittingly sabotaged 
the military aspects of the plan in order to reduce any 
potential political damage which might result from its 
execution. He steadfastly refused to appreciate the 
military implications of what was to transpire and naively 
maintained the belief that somehow the United States could 
credibly deny participation in the operation. 

Nevertheless, all indications are that the military 
made all preparations to make the plan work. Admiral 
Dennison (CINCLANT) did what he could to ensure assets were 
in place to support the invasion. He did so without 
direction from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Admiral 
related: " one of my ASW carriers (the U.S.S. Essex ) 

and took all the ASW planes off and put fighters on there, 
equipped with rockets. And well, I did all—made all kinds 


of preparations without consulting anybody because I could 
foresee that...this thing was going to be a debacle and we'd 
better be prepared to do almost anything.Enroute to 
the Caribbean the Essex airwing, not yet certain what their 
mission would be, conducted intensive air-to-air and ground 
support training in preparation for any eventuality. 

The Joint Chiefs were unanimous in their assessment 
that the invasion would have succeeded had the planned air 
strikes been carried out and, once the operation was 
underway, air cover and shore bombardment provided. 
Militarily, Kennedy's greatest failure was in not 
unequivocally erasing all doubts in the minds of military 
planners and insurgents that American military power would 
not be brought to bear to assist in the invasion under any 
circumstance. By subordinating military decisions to 
political concerns Kennedy subjected himself to useless JCS 

Why the Bav of Pigs? 

In the end, the “Cuba problem" was not a crisis that 
required immediate action. By defining it as such, the Bay 
of Pigs exposed an Administration that was ill-prepared for 
crisis decision-making, and sent a message to the world that 
the new President was too narrowly focused on a single 
objective and too weak to carry out a bold foreign policy 


Some Kennedy advisors dismissed the decision as 
resulting from bureaucratic momentum inherited from the 
previous administration. Dean Acheson, chairman of 
Kennedy's Advisory Committee on NATO, stated that the only 
explanation for the operation was that the "mere inertia of 
the Eisenhower plan carried it to execution. All that the 
present administration did was to take out of it those 
elements of strength essential to its success. Others, 
such as Kennedy Special Counsel Theodore Sorensen, believed 
that the key to the President's decision was that Kennedy 
thought he was approving a plan that in the end was 
different than the plan the CIA and JCS perceived would be 
executed.^ The operation's principal drafters, as well as 
the military, envisioned an invasion with United States 
support. Kennedy failed to acknowledge the plan's military 

The existing study of the Bay of Pigs is replete 
with possible explanations for President Kennedy's decision. 
The most credible among them are Cold War posturing, 
domestic politics, and a desire to portray the image of a 
strong, decisive leader. Taken cumulatively, and in the 
context of the Cold War mindset, it appears that Kennedy 
made the easiest decision available to him that, if 
successful, would have generated the greatest political 
dividends. To do nothing would have been counter to his 
campaign themes of providing youthful, vigorous and 


proactive leadership in a world in which the United States 
was the only counter to Soviet Conmiunist expansion. To do 
more, and not succeed, could have drawn the United States 
into a protracted conflict which would result in political 

A recurring theme was Kennedy's concern that he not 
appear weak in the world community. By allowing his concern 
for politics, of which his image was a critical element, 
take precedence over military and diplomatic considerations. 
President Kennedy made a clearly disastrous decision which 
would bias his foreign policy decision-making and use of the 
military for the remainder of his Presidency. 




The Making of a Crisis 

The Bay of Pigs operation very likely provided the 
impetus for the events which eventually resulted in the 
Cuban Missile Crisis. After its failure, President Kennedy 
privately expressed dissatisfaction with his advisors and 
grew increasingly determined to rid himself of Castro. 
Publicly, he readily accepted the blame and continued his 
commitment to American non-intervention in Cuba. 

On 20 April, the day after the Bay of Pigs, 

President Kennedy addressed the American Society of 

Newspaper Editors. The theme of his speech focused on his 

policy of non-intervention and the lessons to be drawn from 

the recent experience in Cuba. In what was to be his public 

posture on Cuba until the missile crisis, Kennedy stated: 

I have emphasized before that this was a struggle of 
Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator. While we 
could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we 
made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of 
this country would not intervene in any way. 

Any unilateral intervention, in the absence of 
an external attack upon ourselves or an ally, would 
have been contrary to our traditions and to our 
international obligations....! want it clearly 
understood that this government will not hesitate in 
meeting its primary obligations which are to the 
security of our nation. 


....We intend to reexamine and reorient our 
forces of all kinds, our tactics and other 
institutions here in this community. We intend to 
intensify our efforts for a struggle in many ways 
more difficult than war...^ 

With the final phrases, Kennedy was sending a signal 
that his efforts against Cuba would not end. His reference 
to institutions was presumably directed at the roles the CIA 
and the military would assume in future operations. 

In White House meetings, and in statements to the 
press, Kennedy was adamant about assuming the responsibility 
for the Bay of Pigs. When Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson 
directed criticism at the CIA, Kennedy remarked, "Lyndon, 
you've got to remember we're all in this and that, when I 
accepted responsibility for this operation, I took the 
entire responsibility on myself, and I think we should have 
no sort of passing of the buck or backbiting, however 
justified." To emphasize the point, a few days later the 
White House released a statement that read: "President 
Kennedy has statet from the beginning that as President he 
bears sole responsibility.... The President is strongly 
opposed to anyone within or without the administration 
attempting to shift the responsibility."^ These statements 
downplayed President Kennedy's private misgivings about the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA. The staff reorganization 
that produced the decision-making apparatus that would serve 
him during the missile crisis was guietly being set in 


The inunediate personal lesson President Kennedy 
seemed to draw from his Bay of Pigs experience was, 
unfortunately, the wrong one. In the President's view, his 
senior military advisors could not be entrusted to make 
decisions which reflected considerations that included other 
than purely military objectives. More pragmatically, the 
President believed, they were incapable of making decisions 
which had his best interest in mind. This perception was in 
keeping with his pre-election views of senior military 

Despite attempts at political damage control and an 
obvious desire to put the Bay of Pigs behind him. President 
Kennedy was besieged by stinging critiques of his 
performance and a demand for action. In a private meeting 
with Eisenhower, Kennedy was asked by the former President 
why he decided against the use of air power during the 
invasion. Kennedy's explanation was that he feared a Soviet 
response in Berlin and therefore he wanted to "keep our 
hands from showing in the affair." Eisenhower thought it 
incredible that Kennedy believed the world would not suspect 
American involvement, and on the subject of Soviet reaction, 
Eisenhower proved to be a prophet when he stated, "The 
Soviets follow their own plans, and if they see us show any 
weakness then f sic ] is when they press us the hardest.... 

The failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to 
do something that they would not otherwise do." Further, 


Eisenhower critiqued, "I believe there is only one thing to 
do when you go into this kind of thing. It must be a 
success." Kennedy assured him, "hereafter, if we get in 
anything like this, it will be a success."^ 

President Kennedy received a similar response from 
former Vice-President Nixon. In response to Kennedy's 
concerns about the Soviets and Berlin, Nixon replied; 
“Khrushchev will prod and probe in several places at once. 
When we show weakness, he'll create crisis [sic] to take 
advantage of us. We should act in Cuba and Laos, including, 
if necessary, a commitment of U.S. air power." Nixon 
professed that an invasion of Cuba could be justified under 
the guise of protecting American citizens in that country.* 
Such frank advice from former rivals served to strengthen 
Kennedy's resolve for a strategy of action against Cuba. 

General Maxwell Taylor's Cuba Study Group, although 
generally not critical of President Kennedy's role in the 
Bay of Pigs, nevertheless, also called for action. The 
Taylor report concluded, "There can be no long-term living 
with Castro as a neighbor.... While inclining personally to 
a positive course of action against Castro without delay, we 
recognize the danger of dealing with the Cuban problem 
outside the context of the world situation." The report 
went on to describe the existence of a "life-and-death 
struggle" which the United States "may be losing" with the 
Soviet Union.^ 


Robert F. Kennedy, the President's brother and 
Attorney General, added, "Not many are really prepared to 
send American troops in there at the present time, but maybe 
that is the answer. Only time will tell."* No evidence 
exists to suggest an invasion of Cuba was ever seriously 
contemplated by the administration, but the private 
discussions and public pressures demanded action. 

However naive Kennedy may have been with regard to 
foreign policy when he came into office, the Bay of Pigs 
served as a rude introduction into superpower politics. His 
first attempt to exercise his "flexible response" strategy 
was a disaster. He was failing in the very arena he chose 
as the principal battleground for his campaign rhetoric. 

His desire was to turn the country's attention to other 
areas in which his strategy could be successfully used. He 
would have his opportunity at the ensuing Vienna Summit 

If the Bay of Pigs served as the catalyst for the 
Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's Vienna meeting with 
Khrushchev in June of 1961 accelerated events. Although the 
Bay of Pigs and Cuba occupied only a small portion of the 
Summit's agenda, the timidity with which President Kennedy 
addressed the issue seemingly convinced Khrushchev that 
Kennedy was weak and lacked the resolve to commit American 
troops in a crisis. In the short term, Khrushchev chose 
Berlin to exploit what he perceived to be the President's 


lost confidence and diminished world stature. In the long 
term he chose the emplacement of missiles in Cuba. 

After the Summit, Kennedy clearly believed 
Khrushchev had gotten uhe best of him. In an interview with 
James Reston of the New York Times . Kennedy described the 
encounter as the "Roughest thing in my life." In an attempt 
to explain Khrushchev's attitude, Kennedy continued: 

I've got two problems. First, to figure out why 
he did it, and in such a hostile way. And second, 
to figure out what we can do about it. 

I think the first part is pretty easy to 
explain. I think he did it because of the Bay of 
Pigs. I think he thought that anyone who was so 
young and inexperienced as to get into that mess 
could be taken. And anyone who got into it and 
didn't see it through had no guts. So he just beat 
hell out of me....I've got a terrible problem. If 
he thinks I'm inexperienced and have no guts, until 
we remove those ideas we won't get anywhere with 
him. So we have to act.^ 

An astute self-analysis, the very reason the Soviet 
Union deployed missiles to Cuba may have been Khrushchev's 
perception that Kennedy—based on his performance at the Bay 
of Pigs—would respond militarily only to counter direct 
aggression against the United States. Kennedy was certain 
his performance at the Vienna Summit reinforced Khrushchev's 
beliefs. Kennedy was determined to prove him wrong. 

Privately, Kennedy was intensifying efforts to 
topple Castro. The CIA's Deputy Director for plans, Richard 
Helms, described as "white heat" the pressure he had been 
feeling from the President about Cuba since the Bay of Pigs. 
The President used Robert Kennedy to get his message across 


to the CIA. Speaking for the President, the Attorney 
General relayed to Helms, “Get on with this thing! God, 
you've got to do something about it!“ In an ensuing 
meeting. Helms was told "that getting rid of Castro was the 
top priority in the U.S. government. All else is secondary. 
No time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared."® 

Operation Mongoose, which grew to become the largest 
of the CIA's covert operations, was the result. Major 
General Edward Lansdale, a counterinsurgency specialist, was 
placed in charge of the operation. He formulated a six 
phase plan which was to “culminate with an open revolt and 
overthrow of the Communist regime.”’ It consisted of at 
least thirty-three different schemes that were targeted 
principally at the Cuban economy.It included a host of 
activities that in the end only served to harm the Cuban 
population, and give Castro and the Soviets further cause to 
suspect that an American invasion of Cuba was not beyond the 
realm of possibility. All of these activities were in 
keeping with Kennedy's "flexible response" strategy and 
fondness for covert operation. 

A lesson apparently not learned from the Bay of Pigs 
experience was that the task of eliminating the Castro 
government was one that should not be left with the CIA. 
Increasingly, the President's seemingly genuine desire to 
eliminate any vestige of communism from the western 
hemisphere, and his increasing personal animosity toward 


Castro, demanded continued efforts to effect his overthrow. 
As in the Bay of Pigs, however, political expediency 
overruled sound judgment. 

Domestic political pressure for action continued to 
build. As the November mid-terra elections were approaching 
in 1962, Cuba once again occupied the public debate. In 
August, Indiana Republican Senator Homer E. Capehart stated, 
"It is high time that the American people demand that 
President Kennedy quit 'examining the situation' and start 
protecting the interests of the United States.In 
response to increased Soviet troop buildup in Cuba, Senator 
Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, went so far as to urge a 
U.S. invasion of Cuba. In early September, a group of 
Republican Senators introduced a Joint Congressional 
Resolution which authorized the use of American troops in 
Cuba.''^ On the eve of the missile crisis, doing nothing 
was an option that was quickly dissipating. 

As the events of the missile crisis unfolded, 
domestic political considerations were not far from the 
surface during discussions on options to pursue. During the 
deliberations. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara offered, "A 
missile is a missile. It makes no great difference whether 
you are killed by a missile from the Soviet Union or from 
Cuba."”'^ This opinion was quickly subordinated by concerns 
from some Kennedy advisors "that if we allow Cuba to 
complete installation and operational readiness of missile 


bases, the next House of Representatives is likely to have a 

Republican majority.McNamara's interpretation on 16 
October 1962: "I'll be quite frank, I don't think there is 
a military problem here.... This is a domestic political 
problem."''^ For pragmatic political reasons Kennedy had to 

Kennedy's New Team 

Though outwardly Kennedy remained calm and 
courageously accepted the blame for the Bay of Pigs debacle, 
privately he felt his "experts" had failed him. In a 
private discussion with his Special Counsel, Theodore 
Sorensen, Kennedy inquired, “How could I have been so far 
off base? All my life I've known better than to depend on 
experts. How could I have been so stupid to let them go 
ahead?In another private moment he said to his Special 
Assistant, Arthur Schlesinger, "My God, the bunch of 
advisors we inherited.... Can you imagine being President 
and leaving behind someone like all those people there? 

He most clearly felt betrayed by the CIA, the Joint Chiefs, 
and to some degree, the State Department. Henceforth, 
President Kennedy was determined to have a firmer grasp on 
his administration's foreign policy.He would do so by 
further cightening his inner circle of advisors. 

^..ter the Bay of Pigs President Kennedy was 
determined not to rely solely on experts any longer. He was 
inclined to make greater use of those advisors in whom he 


had developed personal confidence and whom he considered 
generalists. The process whereby he would replace incumbent 
advisors with those of his own choosing was greatly 

Robert Kennedy and Theodore Sorensen, neither of 
whom were involved in the Bay of Pigs decisions, became the 
President's most trusted confidants and would be present for 
every crisis decision for the remainder of his Presidency. 
McGeorge Bundy would assume greater responsibilities in his 
role as National Security Advisor. Maxwell Taylor was 
brought in as a source of alternate military advice. 

Lastly, all close advisors were encouraged to provide 
"unfettered and confidential" advice to the President.^’ 

The most obvious organization which was left out of this new 
national security apparatus was the military and the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff. 

Robert Kennedy was perhaps the Administration's most 
ready critic of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During the 
missile crisis Robert Kennedy wrote of his reaction to one 
of the military briefings, "I thought, as I listened, of the 
many times that I had heard the military take positions 
which, if wrong, had the advantage that no one would be 
around at the end to know."^° Robert Kennedy, it appeared, 
never fully trusted the Joint Chiefs to look after the 
President's best interests. 


McGeorge Bundy developed into the Administration's 
focal point on military matters and foreign affairs. He was 
moved from the Executive Office Building to the West Wing of 
the White House and given responsibility for coordinating 
access to the President on security matters. He started 
regularly scheduled morning meetings of his National 
Security Council staff which routinely included 
representatives from the CIA, Defense and State Departments. 
This increased his value to the President and, in turn, 
strengthened the President's grasp of the relevant issues 
with the fewest number of advisors.^"* 

In late June 1961, Maxwell Taylor officially became 
a member of Kennedy's team. As Military Representative of 
the President (Milrep), Taylor was to serve as a staff 
officer whose responsibility it was to advise and assist the 
President in matters concerning the military. Additionally, 
he was assigned in an advisory capacity to Cold War planning 
and in the intelligence field, with particular emphasis in 
Berlin and Southeast Asia. To assure there were no 
appearances of conflicts with those individuals who had 
statutory responsibility to the President--Chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of the CIA, the Secretary of 
Defense, and the National Security Advisor--Kennedy 
emphasized that Taylor would have no command authority and 
was not to intervene between the President and any of those 
individuals or agencies. 


Taylor set out quickly to allay any animosity he was 
certain his new role would develop within the Joint Chiefs. 
In an early meeting with the Chairman, General Lemnitzer, 
Taylor suggested that the members of the JCS and he 
exchanged views on issues they were working concurrently 
before official papers were forwarded to the President. The 
Chairman agreed and, in an apparent reference to already 
published press comments, said he would do all he could to 
prevent any wedges from being driven between them. Taylor 
later wrote: "After these initial understandings our 
relations proceeded with no friction of which I was ever 
aware, although I am quite sure that the Chiefs, as a body, 
never cared for the 'Milrep' as an institution."^^ 

Taylor soon became a trusted advisor of the 
President. Sorensen wrote that Kennedy sought military 
advisors whose thinking was in line with his own. 

Apparently lacking faith in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the 
President found the trusted military advice he was seeking 
in the person of General Maxwell Taylor.^'^ 

Owing to proximity and trust, Kennedy was 
increasingly turning to Taylor rather than the JCS for 
military advice. This trend would continue unabated until 
General Taylor assumed the position of Chairman a year 
later. Even with his appointment as Chairman it is 
debatable whether the Pentagon advice that eventually 


reached the President was unbiased military counsel or 
simply General Taylor's politically sensitized viewpoint. 

The Executive Committee 

On the morning of 16 October 1962, McGeorge Bundy 
delivered the news to the President that U-2 photographs 
provided evidence of the existence of missile sites in Cuba. 
After being convinced of the evidence, Kennedy directed 
Bundy to commence low-level reconnaissance flights and to 
call a meeting of top officials and close advisors. At 
eleven forty-five that morning the first meeting of the 
Executive Committee of the National Security Council 
(EXCOMM) was convened. 

Kennedy expressed a desire to limit the participants 
in the deliberations to generally the small group assembled 
at the first meeting. It was his intent to present the 
evidence to the Soviets, at a time of his choosing, and to 
do so with complete surprise to gain the initiative in 
whatever maneuvering might ensue. To conduct a large 
National Security Council (NSC) meeting, the President 
reasoned, would surely cause leaks. He wanted no signs of 
unusual activities.^® 

Large National Security Council meetings had been 
commonplace during the Eisenhower Administration. One of 
Kennedy's first official acts after his inauguration was to 
sign an executive order abolishing much of the statutory 
membership of the Council. The creation- of the EXCOMM 


effectively eliminated the formal apparatus of the NSC that 
was intended to provide advice to the President. 

Kennedy chose members of the EXCOMM not so much 
because of position but because of personal confidence and 
reliability. The principal participants included Vice- 
President Johnson, Secretary of Defense NcNamara, Secretary 
of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas 
Dillon, Attorney General Kennedy, CIA Director John H. 
McCone, Undersecretary of State George W. Ball, Deputy 
Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric, Ambassador-at- 
large Llewellyn E. Thompson, Special Counsel Sorensen, 
National Security Advisor Bundy and the Chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Taylor. Other nonmembers were 
occasionally included in the meetings. 

From the outset, two traditional Presidential 
decision-making bodies were excluded, as organizations, from 
the President's group of advisors. The President's own 
Cabinet and, with the noticeable exception of General 
Taylor, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kennedy believed the 
Cabinet was not suited for the crisis management role, and 
few of its members had ascended to a place of complete 
confidence in the President's inner circle. As for the 
Joint Chiefs, Kennedy never fully regained his confidence in 
them since the Bay of Pigs and was perfectly satisfied to go 
to General Taylor for military advice. Demonstrating a 
continued indifference to JCS advice, Kennedy once remarked, 


"They advise you the way a man advises another one about 
whether he should marry a girl. They don't have to live 
with her."^® This perception of the Joint Chiefs remained 
despite the fact that, with the exception of Marine Corps 
Commandant General Shoup, all were different than the ones 
in office during the Bay of Pigs. 

For much of the deliberations during the Cuban 
Missile Crisis General Taylor remained the only sounding 
board for the Joint Chiefs, and their sole access to the 
President. The Chiefs made only rare appearances at the 
EXCOMM meetings and, when they did so, had little influence 
on the proceedings and ultimately, the President's 

President Kennedy was impressed by the military 
effort, particularly the deployment of Navy vessels, the 
continuous alert by Air Force crews, and the movement of 
Army and Marine troops to the southeastern part of the 
United States, but he was considerably less impressed by the 
military representatives with whom he met. President 
Kennedy was concerned by the Joint Chiefs' limited military 
focus. Robert Kennedy wrote that the President believed the 
Chiefs "seemed to give so little consideration to the 
implications of steps they suggested. They seemed always to 
assume that if the Russians and the Cubans would not respond 
or, if they did, that a war was in our national interest." 

He continued, "when the Russians answered they were 

withdrawing their missiles, it was suggested by one high 
military adviser that we attack Monday in any case."^’ 

After each EXCOMM meeting throughout the crisis, 
General Taylor would promptly return to the Pentagon to 
brief the Joint Chiefs, and ensure military requirements 
that had come out of the meeting were set into motion. 
General Taylor was often subjected to pointed questioning by 
the Joint Chiefs to ensure their positions were being 
appropriately defended. On occasion, when the Chiefs 
expressed skepticism at General Taylor's efforts in 
presenting their views to the President, Taylor would offer 
to arrange a meeting for the Chiefs with the President "at 
which I promised to hold their coats," so they might express 
their individual opinions in person. They declined. On 19 
October, at General Taylor's suggestion, the President 
invited the Joint Chiefs to a meeting to hear their 
views.This meeting did little except make the Chiefs 
feel better. By this time, the President, with strong 
endorsements from Defense Secretary McNamara and Attorney 
General Kennedy, had virtually decided on the blockade as a 
course of action.^”' 

The diversity of the membership of the EXCOMM and 
the free-wheeling nature of the discussions provided the 
President with a wide range of responses to the Soviet 
emplacement of missiles in Cuba. The options ranged from 
doing nothing, to a pre-emptive air strike followed by an 


invasion of Cuba. Doing nothing was categorically rejected 
from the outset. Domestic political pressures and 
continuing Presidential rhetoric necessarily demanded 
action. The lessons of the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy's own 
beliefs about his dealings with Khrushchev further fueled 
his desire for positive action. 

Although the EXCOMM considered diplomatic options in 
response to the Soviet missiles in Cuba, its principal 
preoccupation was in addressing military responses. Because 
of his September 1962 pledge to do whatever was necessary to 
counter any "offensive" missiles in Cuba, and his warning to 
the Soviets against building missile bases on the island, 
the President believed that the American people would demand 
a military response. As Undersecretary of State Ball 
pointed out on 16 October: " far as the American 
people are concerned, action means military action, 

After some diplomatic posturing at the first EXCOMM 
meeting, the meeting soon settled on the discussion of three 
military options: (1) "a single, quick, surgical strike on 
the missile bases;" (2) "a broad air bombardment of various 
Cuban facilities;" or (3) "either of these two strikes plus 
a mopping-up invasion of Cuba." A naval blockade, the 
course eventually selected, was suggested during an evening 
session on the first day of deliberations.^^ 


In the aggregate the formation of the EXCOMM was a 
sharp departure from the immediate past. It circumvented 
the role normally intended for the NSC and JCS and provided 
President Kennedy the deliberate, all-inclusive decision¬ 
making lacking during the Bay of Pigs. For the President's 
purposes, and based on the outcome of the crisis, its 
creation has been regarded as a success. For its actual 
utility as a crisis management tool its value was dubious. 
Misperceptions of intentions by both sides—revealed many 
years after the crisis—and maneuverings by Kennedy and 
Khrushchev during the crisis, undermined the ultimate 
effectiveness and value of the EXCOMM. 

Soviet Decision 

In his memoirs, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev 
wrote that the idea to deploy nuclear missiles to Cuba first 
came to him during a visit to Bulgaria 14-20 May 1962. The 
genesis of the decision grew out of Khrushchev's concern for 
the American deployment of Jupiter missiles in Turkey. He 

The Americans had surrounded our country with 
military bases and threatened us with nuclear 
weapons, and now they would learn just what it feels 
like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we'd be 
doing nothing more than giving them a little of 
their own medicine. 

The secondary issue, as far as Khrushchev was 
concerned at the time, was to protect Cuba from what 
appeared to be an imminent invasion by the United States. 


In early discussions with his closest advisors, only 
two credible doubts concerning the deployment of missiles to 
Cuba surfaced. The first was getting Castro to agree and, 
the second was being able to deploy the missiles secretly. 
Khrushchev disregarded the concern of some that the 
deployment of the missiles would cause a "political 
explosion" in the Kennedy Administration.^® 

The Soviet request to Cuba was packaged "as an offer 
of military support 'all the way up to...deploying...Soviet 
medium-range missiles' on Cuban territory, if the Cubans 
considered that it would be a useful measure to deter the 
'potential aggressor' from attack." Fidel Castro quickly 
agreed to the proposal and expressed confidence that the 
deployment could be done secretly.®* 

Ultimately, the Soviet decision to deploy missiles 
in Cuba was borne out of three principal concerns: (1) the 
defense of Cuba against an American invasion; (2) to address 
the strategic inferiority suffered by the Soviets; and (3) 
in response to the American overseas deployment of missiles. 
The first of these was the official Soviet rationale for 
their missile deployment after the crisis itself.®^ During 
a 1989 conference at which American, Soviet, and Cuban 
participants in the crisis were in attendance, Andrei 
Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister in 1962, responded to a 
question concerning Soviet intentions: "Their action was 
intended to strengthen the defensive stability of Cuba. To 


avert the threats against it. I repeat, to strengthen the 
defensive capability of Cuba. That is all."^® This belief 
seemed to be the prevailing view among many of the 
participants on the Soviet and Cuban side; however, as noted 
previously. Premier Khrushchev was undeniably agitated by 
the American missiles in Turkey and the earlier revelation 
of the false missile gap. 

Certainly the Bay of Pigs provided a precedent for 
United States intervention in Cuba. Further provocation was 
provided throughout 1961 and 1962 through covert action and 
military exercises. From 19 April to 11 May 1962, the U.S. 
military conducted Operation Quick Kick off the southeastern 
coast of the United States. Seventy-nine ships, 300 
aircraft, and more than 40,000 troops participated in the 
exercise. The Soviets presumed (correctly) the United 
States was exercising a war plan for the invasion of 

Covert activity under Operation Mongoose was also 
intensifying in Cuba and was becoming decidedly less covert. 
Secretary McNamara later commented, ”If I was a Cuban and 
read the evidence of covert American action against their 
government, I would be quite ready to believe that the U.S. 
intended to mount an invasion."^ The very premise under 
which the missiles were withdrawn was an American pledge not 
to invade Cuba. 


The disclosure of the false “missile gap" after 
Kennedy's election damaged the Soviet's Cold War prestige--a 
posture from which they had yet to recover. The gap opened 
further in favor of the Western Alliances under Kennedy's 
defense buildup. In early 1963 the Western Alliances had a 
6 to 1 advantage in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles 
(ICBM), and a 3 to 1 advantage in Long-Range Bombers. In 
pragmatic terms, the quickest and most cost-effective means 
of countering that advantage was the emplacement of Medium 
Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) in Cuba.^"' 

In keeping with Cold War politics, the White House 
leaked to the press that the Jupiter missiles were fully 
operational in Turkey in April 1962. The announcement very 
nearly coincided with the military's Operation Quick Kick 
exercise--CINCLANT's contingency plan against Cuba.^ The 
cumulative affect of American actions, in concert with 
Soviet and Cuban perceptions of American intentions in a 
Cold War environment, contributed to Khrushchev's decision 
to deploy missiles in Cuba. 

Military Role 

Military operations coincident with the Cuban 
Missile Crisis covered a considerably longer time-frame than 
the now famous thirteen days in October 1962. On 1 October, 
in response to the American discovery of Soviet IL-28 medium 
bombers in Cuba, Defense Secretary McNamara directed the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff to intensify contingency planning for 


Cuba. Admiral Dennison, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic 
(CINCLANT), was alerted to prepare blockade plans as part of 
contingency preparations. Subsequent large scale movements 
were conducted under the guise of PHIBRIGLEX 62, a large 
amphibious assault exercise previously scheduled for 15-20 
October. The Atlantic Fleet was placed in its highest state 
of readiness on 6 October. It remained there, along with 
other elements of the United States Armed Forces, until 20 
November, the day after Castro announced he would not object 
to the Soviet withdrawal of the IL-28 bombers. The naval 
quarantine was in effect from 24 October to 20 November. 

The term "quarantine" was chosen by the President because he 
feared "blockade" could have been interpreted as an act of 

In military terms, the Cuban Missile Crisis was the 
first true success of President Kennedy's "flexible 
response" strategy. Kennedy's commitment to a capable 
conventional force, particularly the attainment of maritime 
superiority, very likely averted a confrontation with the 
Soviets which possibly could have escalated into a nuclear 
war. As Kennedy articulated while formulating his national 
security doctrine, capable conventional forces are not in 
themselves a deterrent. However, in this instance they 
helped nuclear deterrence work. Without a strong 
conventional force the United States would have been unable 
to make credible demands short of nuclear war. 


Despite the obvious military successes the outcome 
of the crisis suggests, the military was affected throughout 
the operation by Kennedy's continued wariness of military 
advisors as a result of the Bay of Pigs. Even as events 
were leading toward the crisis, Kennedy was still lamenting 
that he “could have managed the military responsibilities of 
the Bay of Pigs better than the military experts."'^ 

While still in the deliberation process, Kennedy's 
attitude handicapped military efforts in two critical areas. 
As the only uniformed military member of the EXCOMM, General 
Taylor was not particularly qualified to discuss the pros 
and cons of either blockades or air strikes, the principal 
options being considered by the EXCOMM. His combat 
experience had been as commanding general of the 101st 
Airborne Division during World War II, followed by an 
assignment as commanding general of the Eighth Army during 
the Korean War. Most recently, his assignments had been 
exclusively in the diplomatic arena. He was not a champion 
of the greater level of military effort being advocated by 
the Joint Chiefs.^^ The Joint Chiefs, therefore, had 
little influence in shaping President Kennedy's perspective 
of the military options being pursued. 

The second disadvantage the military endured was a 
result of President Kennedy's seemingly excessive concern 
for secrecy. Based on direction from the President, 
Secretary McNamara and General Taylor were to brief only the 


Joint Chiefs themselves on the EXCOMM deliberations. 

Immediate subordinates were not allowed in these briefings. 
In one extreme case, Kennedy actually forbade General Taylor 
from briefing Admiral Dennison and his staff (the CINCLANT 
staff which would have been responsible for executing the 
eventual military option) on the results of the EXCOMM 
meetings for fear that the seriousness of the impending 
confrontation would be leaked to the public.^ It was only 
because the military had recognized the strategic and 
political value of Cuba and had contingency plans prepared, 
that it was effectively able to deploy despite these 

Attempting to gain even greater control of military 
actions, Kennedy directed that he alone would decide which 
ships would be boarded by the Navy's blockading force after 
the quarantine went into effect. The President would issue 
his order to Secretary McNamara or General Taylor who would 
then deliver it to the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral 
George W. Anderson, in the Navy's Flag Plot in the Pentagon. 
The CNO would then transmit the orders to Admiral Dennison 
at his headquarters in Norfolk, or directly to Vice Admiral 
Alfred Ward, the Task Force Commander, on board the Newport 
News . To refute some suggestions that Kennedy communicated 
directly with ships at sea. Flag Plot Watch Officer Captain 
John H. Carmichael commented later, "I know of no incident 

when civilian authorities gave orders directly to afloat 

Acknowledging that the President's direct 
intervention may have offended some of his military 
colleagues. General Taylor, nevertheless, staunchly 
supported Kennedy's actions. In his memoirs. General Taylor 
wrote of Kennedy's control: "It was a classic example of 
the use of military power for political purposes which, 
after all, is the prime justification for military 
power.Considering the outcome, it is difficult to 
contradict Kennedy's desire for direct involvement in 
military decisions; however, most senior military leaders 
were clearly unhappy with his actions. 

The JCS had begun developing contingency plans for 
Cuba as early as 1959 when Castxo came to power. Admiral 
Dennison assumed the task <.f plan development in mid-1961. 
His staff subsequently drew up three plans; one plan for air 
strikes (OpPlan 312), and two plans for an invasion of the 
island (OpPlans 314 and 316).^^ 

OpPlan 312 presented options which included up to an 
all-out air campaign to gain air supremacy. OpPlan 314 was 
designed to be a deliberate invasion in which Marines would 
land in eastern Cuba, near Guantanamo, while the XVIII 
Airborne Corps seized four airfields around Havana. Special 
Forces teams would also deploy to facilitate the expected 
uprising against Castro. OpPlan 316 was similar to 314 but 


was to be accomplished with much shorter notice, thereby 
restricting the initial assault to the Airborne Corps and 
whatever Marine un:ts were either at sea or already in 
Guantanamo. Either OpPlan 314 or 316 would be preceded by 
the execution of 312. Preparations for the execution of 
these three plans went into full swing on 1 October when the 
CINCLANT commander, Admiral Dennison, was directed by 
Secretary McNamara to intensify his planning efforts.^° 

According to Commander Gerry McCabe, the President's 
assistant naval aide during the crisis, Kennedy was made 
av.’are of the Soviet's intention to deploy missiles into Cuba 
as early as July. Unconfirmed sources in the Soviet 
government were reputed to have provided some intelligence 
to Kennedy. Additionally, large logistics movements at the 
Soviet ports of Odessa and Leningrad were drawing the 
interest of naval intelligence and American satellites.^’’ 

On 23 July, the Oxford, a sophisticated signals 
intelligence vessel, assumed a patrol off Cuba, sometimes 
closing to within 12 miles of Havana. An officer assigned 
to the Oxford , acknowledged, "The White House was aware of 
and approved our assignment to the areas and was apprised of 
our movements." Vice Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, a member of 
the CNO's staff, went so far as to state that, "electronic 
intelligence acquired by surface ships led to the 
photographic intelligence which gave us ’indisputable 
evidence of the...Soviet missiles in Cuba." Secretary 


McNamara further stated that the intelligence gathered by 
Oxford was “valuable information, on the basis of which 
national policy was formulated."*^ No source suggests that 
intercepts by Oxford confirmed the existence of offensive 
missiles in Cuba, but it did provide a wealth of information 
to Kennedy and his staff. 

Perhaps hoping the Cuba problem would go away, 
Kennedy continued to ignore the Soviet arms buildup in Cuba 
for much of the summer of 1962. During that summer, sixty- 
one Soviet and Soviet Bloc vessels delivered troops, 
supplies and arms to Cuba. The military equipment included 
MIG-19 jet aircraft, tanks, battlefield artillery, rockets, 
trucks and small arms.*^ 

On 14 October, two U-2s provided photographic 
evidence of the Soviet deployment of medium and intermediate 
range ballistic missiles to Cuba. The JCS met on 16 October 
to consider military options for the removal of the 
missiles. They concluded that selected targeting of missile 
emplacements was not a sound military option, and told 
Secretary McNamara that any air strike should include "all 
missile sites, all combat aircraft and nuclear storage, 
combat ships, tanks and other appropriate military targets 
in Cuba, in conjunction with a complete blockade." They 
indicated that the air strike could be launched within 
twenty-four hours of authorization and that the Navy's 
Second Fleet was already moving into position from which to 


impose a blockade. They further stated that the 
“elimination of the Castro regime," would require an 
invasion by American forces.President Kennedy made it 
clear he preferred a more moderate response. 

During EXCOMM deliberations on 18 October, the 
principal advantage of a blockade surfaced. The blockade 
could be announced as an initial response with the threat of 
further U.S. military action, as yet undefined, should the 
Soviets not withdraw the missiles. On 20 October, the 
EXCOMM voted 11 to 6 to recommend the blockade to the 
President. On the evening of 22 October, the President, on 
national television, announced his intentions to quarantine 
Cuba to interdict further Soviet arms shipments and force 
the removal of offensive weapons already in Cuba.®® 

On 22 October the Strategic Air Command (SAC) was 
placed in Defense Condition (DEFCON) 2, while other military 
commands were placed in DEFCON 3 (DEFCONS refer to varying 
conditions of readiness with 5 being normal peacetime, and 1 
being the maximum alert posture). This was only one of 
three cases ever in which global American military forces 
have been placed in DEFCOii 3 or higher.®* On the morning 
of 24 October, the naval quarantine went into effect. 

A Military Success Story? 

To the extent that decisions made by the military's 
civilian leadership--and the resultant military deployment-- 
averted what almost certainly would have escalated into 


global nuclear war (recent revelations that tactical 
battlefield nuclear weapons were operational at the time of 
the crisis suggest that, at a minimum, an American invasion 
of Cuba would have resulted in a regional nuclear conflict), 
actual military operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis 
can be judged a success. 

Politically and diplomatically, Kennedy's handling 
of the crisis was hugely successful. His flexible response 
strategy had been validated and the United States was viewed 
as the dominant world military power. Although a small 
minority of world leaders viewed Kennedy's actions as 
reckless, he had clearly gained the worldwide prestige he 

Militarily, the reaction of senior military officers 
was mixed. The JCS, as a body, had favored an invasion of 
Cuba and some believed an opportunity to finally rid the 
United States of Castro and the "Cuba problem" was missed. 
The CNO, Admiral Anderson, echoed what many senior officers 
believed by suggesting Kennedy conceded too much to the 
Soviets when he agreed to the removal of Jupiter missiles 
from Turkey. Vice Admiral John T. Hayward, commander of a 
carrier task force during the crisis, went so far as to 
proclaim of the outcome, "It was a defeat, and a cheap 
success for uhe Soviets. 

Critiques of President Kennedy's decisions by 
members of the Joint Chiefs were unquestionably biased by 


their resentment of the President for excluding the Chiefs 
during what they considered to be critical decision-making 
junctures. Many subtle comments by the Chiefs reveal a 
certain disdain for the manner in which General Taylor 
presented their views to the President. Additionally, they 
believed an inadequate flow of information was being 
provided to them from EXCOMM deliberations and presidential 
decisions. To compound matters, they were universally 
contemptuous of what they rightfully perceived as political 
leaders making military decisions. 

On the point of military decision-making, 
considerable evidence exists to show that many of President 
Kennedy's decisions were poorly informed ones, and his 
control of military actions far from complete. The 
fundamental issue of establishing the blockade is a case in 
point. Why was it successful when there were already 
operational missiles on Cuba and Kennedy chose to execute 
the blockade in such a passive manner? The only plausible 
explanation was the United States' overwhelming conventional 
superiority—particularly at sea—and Kennedy's deft 
political jousting with Khrushchev. 

Despite being severely hamstrung, the Navy did what 
it could to make the blockade work. The military's first 
clash with the President was over the issue of the distance 
from Cuba in which Soviet ships would be intercepted. The 
Navy opted for a blockade line of 800 miles in order to 

remain beyond the striking distance of Soviet IL-28 bombers 
operating from the island. The President, oblivious to the 
military implications of this, insisted on 500 miles, 
reasoning it would allow Khrushchev additional time to turn 
his ships back. Some accounts indicate the blockade 
remained at 800 miles. 

When the Navy discovered Soviet submarines operating 
near the blockade, the submarines were prosecuted by anti¬ 
submarine aircraft and surface ships and, once located, 
forced to the surface with low-power depth charges. Again, 
not recognizing the military issues involved, Kennedy gave 
his blessing only to the tracking of the submarines. 
Considering the potential danger of an undetected submarine 
amongst the American blockade line, Navy planners considered 
the aggressive action the militarily prudent thing to do.*’ 
Some writings have suggested that challenging the Soviet 
submarines lent credibility to an otherwise timid 

A third illustration of how tenuous Kennedy's 
control of the military actually was, but nevertheless 
served to lend increased military credibility to American 
resolve, was in actions taken by the United States Strategic 
Air Command (SAC). After being ordered to DEFCON 2 General 
Thomas Power, Commander-in-Chief of SAC, directed his 
aircrews to report their increased readiness status on 
unclassified circuits. He did so, on his own initiative, in 


an effort to “rub it in." He was directed to go on full 
alert, not how to do it. Later accounts revealed this 
unauthorized display of American power was unknown to the 
President, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the 
Joint Chiefs of Staff.^ 

As these and other events portray. President Kennedy 
routinely subordinated military considerations for 
diplomatic and political ones. Perhaps still reticent about 
committing American troops and remaining extremely 
distrustful of the military hierarchy due to his Bay of Pigs 
experience, Kennedy preferred to trust his own judgement and 
that of close advisors whose thinking was similar to his 
own. The obvious results of the Cuban Missile Crisis were 
an accelerated Cold War arms race and Castro's continued 
dominance of Cuba. The critical military lesson was the 
value of maintaining a credible conventional force and using 
it from a position of strength to attain legitimate national 
policy objectives. 




Kennedy Doctrine 

President John F. Kennedy's use of the military in 
support of his foreign policy objectives can be divided into 
two very nearly distinct phases. Although there was no 
single defining moment which divides the two (the 
American/Soviet standoff in Berlin in October 1961 is a good 
candidate), they seem to coincide with the development of 
the American military's conventional force capability. 
Additionally, the President's increasing degree of 
commitment to his flexible response strategy, as it was 
evolving, can be measured by his maturation process while in 
office. His determination to atone for the humiliation of 
the Bay of Pigs provided suitable motivation to accelerate 
the process. 

When President Kennedy entered the White House he 
clearly understood the interrelationship of the various 
tools available to him in the conduct of foreign policy. In 
his first State of the Union Message Kennedy declared, "Our 
greatest challenge is still the world that lies beyond the 
Cold War.... To meet this array of challe.iges. . . we must re¬ 
examine and revise our whole arsenal of tools: military. 


economic and political. One must not overshadow the other. 
On the Presidential coat of arms, the American eagle holds 
in his right talon the olive branch, while in his left he 
holds a bundle of arrows. We intend to give equal attention 
to both. 

As Kennedy quickly learned, his clearly articulated 
vision of America's role in the world would abruptly clash 
with Cold War realities. Nuclear age terms such as crisis 
management, and the preferable alternatives of crisis 
prevention and crisis avoidance, did not fit neatly into 
Kennedy's untested doctrine and political rhetoric. 

In some cases, what appeared to be an exercise in 
power and influence by the United States—made possible 
solely by the backing of American military might--was, in 
actuality, an exercise in personal diplomacy by the 
President and his closest confidant, the Attorney General, 
Robert Kennedy. 

Many studies of the Cuban Missile Crisis give 
enormous credit to the President's personal correspondence 
with Khrushchev, and his brother's secret shuttle diplomacy 
with Russian Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, as having 
provided the impetus for a peaceful resolution to the 
crisis. These studies conclude that it was the face-saving 
gestures provided the Soviets--such as the removal of 
American Jupiter missiles from Turkey and the assurance that 
the United States would not invade Cuba--rather than the 


overt threat of American military action, that ultimately 
led to the Soviet decision to remove the missiles from Cuba. 

The use of secret diplomacy as an integral part of 
his foreign policy strategy was not unprecedented for 
Kennedy. When American and Soviet tanks faced off in Berlin 
in 1961, the President directed Robert Kennedy to inform the 
Soviets that he wanted the tanks removed in twenty-four 
hours. Later accounts revealed the Attorney General 
provided secret concessions with the demand. A later Soviet 
Ambassador to Bonn, Valentin Falin, indicated that the 
Kennedy message provided a "certain flexibility" by 
suggesting that if the tanks "parted without damage to each 
other's prestige," the President would assert that the 
confrontation was a "productive, purely political exchange 
of opinions."^ 

The foregoing examples are not intended to convey 
that Kennedy intentionally undermined the role of the 
military, or invalidated his doctrine. Rather, they suggest 
that he could effectively use the diplomatic tool because he 
was doing so from a position of strength. The means by 
which he chose to do so were in keeping with his personality 
and the Cold War, pre-Watergate obsession with secrecy that 
was a matter of course for politicians of the day. Due to 
his concern that he portray an image of strength and 
resolve, it was critical that he appear to be a more 
formidable foe at the bargaining table than perhaps he 


really was. Therefore, if it was, in fact, personal 
diplomacy that ultimately resolved crises, it was military 
strength that provided the private lever and public prestige 
Kennedy sought from his doctrine. 

Kennedy's inclination to pursue diplomatic solutions 
was very likely a lesson borne out of the failed Bay of Pigs 
invasion and resultant worldwide condemnation. Curiously, 
had Kennedy pursued his inclination toward personal 
diplomacy with Khrushchev when the first evidence of Soviet 
missile emplacement in Cuba surfaced, the Cuban Missile 
Crisis may have been avoided entirely. 

Kennedy Decision-Making 

Arguably, the military—particularly the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff—were affected more than any organization as 
Kennedy's decision-making apparatus evolved while in the 
White House. This is owing to the fact that Kennedy was 
enamored with the military as his principal instrument of 
foreign policy, while maintaining a generally mixed opinion 
of senior military officers and the advice they offered. 

The Bay of Pigs operation and the Cuban Missile Crisis 
provide significant examples of how President Kennedy 
arrived at decisions to deploy the military, and once 
arriving at those decisions, how he chose to employ the 
military in pursuit of his policies. 

Studies abound which attempt to categorize President 
Kennedy's decision-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis 


into one of several political science models based mostly on 
Graham T. Allison's authoritative Essence of Decision: 

Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis . Considerably less 
exists in the study of the Bay of Pigs. Perhaps this is due 
to the fact that Allison's models place a great deal of 
emphasis on organizational dynamics and expected payoffs. 

The consideration of either of these by Kennedy was not in 
evidence during the Bay of Pigs. 

Thomas Halper's discussion on presidential decision¬ 
making in Foreign Policy Crisis: Appearance and Reality in 
Decision Making more closely provides practical reasoning 
for Kennedy's decisions during both events. Halper's 
thesis--that it is the president, based on his perception 
of international and domestic realities, who define 
situations as "crises" and is then able to mislead the 
public on the nature of the crisis--has relevancy to both 
the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs. 

As illustrated earlier, the Bay of Pigs was a crisis 
of Kennedy's own choosing in which several interrelated 
factors contributed to his decision. Key among them was his 
perception of the strength of the domestic insurgency 
against Castro. Though certainly not of his choosing, some 
writings have postulated that the threat posed by Soviet 
missiles during the Cuban Missile Crisis was intentionally 
exaggerated to manipulate public perceptions of the 
magnitude of the crisis. 

For the most part, each of the aforementioned 
studies regard the use of the military only in the periphery 
of decision-making considerations. A central point in most 
decision-making models (when deciding on the commitment of 
military forces) is an almost exclusive focus by the 
decision-maker on the reaction of the adversary. Absent 
concrete intelligence, the decision-maker tends to the 
conservative, while considerably exaggerating his opponents' 
capabilities. Armed with faulty intelligence, potentially 
disastrous decisions are made which could lead to failure. 

On this point, a similarity between the events emerges. 

Each event exposed critical intelligence failures: 
the Bay of Pigs immediately after the fact; the Cuban 
Missile Crisis some years later. In both cases, the United 
States grossly underestimated the resolve of Castro and the 
Cuban population. The result during the Bay of Pigs was 
obvious; complete failure. The implication for military 
planners and civilian decision-makers during the Cuban 
Missile Crisis was potentially more disastrous. Even short 
of nuclear war, the United States was unprepared for the 
resistance it would have encountered had the situation 
escalated beyond the quarantine. 

As President Kennedy's Defense Secretary, Robert 
McNamara, noted after a meeting of participants of the 
Crisis in 1989, "It had become clear that the decision of 
each of the three nations, immediately before and during the 

crisis, had been distorted by misinforination, 
miscalculation, and misjudgment.“ Addressing military 
concerns was the revelation of the presence of 43,000 Soviet 
troops in Cuba augmenting a well-armed Cuban force of 
270,000. Additionally, it was revealed that by October 24, 
1962, twenty nuclear warheads had been delivered to the 
island. CIA estimates reported 10,000 Soviet troops on Cuba 

and no nuclear warheads.^ Regardless of the level of 


military escalation, numerous casualties would have resulted 
that the United States had not calculated in its contingency 
war planning. 

With the obvious benefit of hindsight, it becomes 
clear that President Kennedy sorely underestimated the 
military implications of the decisions he made and policies 
he pursued in Cuba. The only decisions that mattered during 
the Bay of Pigs were his. After that it can be argued that 
he was simply overtaken by a series of significant events in 
which he can be scrutinized as closely for decisions he did 
not make as for those he did. 

President Kennedy served in the White House during a 
period of extraordinary turbulence, or so the American 
public was led to believe. He defined the period as such 
during his campaign for the Presidency and lent it 
credibility with an ominous warning of impending peril 
during his first State of the Union Message. He further 
cemented the perception of crisis by his ill-fated decision 

to launch the Bay of Pigs invasion so early in his 

Whether Kennedy was a creator of crises, or simply 
the beneficiary of a great many of them is purely 
conjecture; nevertheless, the military was his instrument of 
choice in dealing with them. As a manager of crisis—from a 
purely military standpoint—his performance was suspect. 

For reasons presented earlier, he was not helped in this 
pursuit by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This fact can be 
attributed to the decision-making apparatus Kennedy chose 
for himself while in the White House. 

Just as Kennedy's commitment to his "flexible 
response" strategy evolved as he matured in office, so too 
did the level of sophistication he displayed in the 
international arena. Similarly, the mechanism by which he 
chose to avail himself of critical information (information 
that would assist him in crisis decision-making) evolved as 
a result of the trials he underwent while in office. The 
roles he chose for his closest advisors represented the most 
significant evolution. 

One of Kennedy's first actions in regard to his 
decision-making process was a restructuring and downsizing 
of the National Security Council (NSC). He disdained large, 
structured meetings and instead preferred "informal meetings 
and direct contacts."^ He brought with him to Washington a 
host of advisors who could be characterized as Ivy League 


elitists with no ties to the military. Many of these were 
given the position of Special Assistant to the President and 
were to provide Kennedy with advise in particular areas of 
expertise. All of this proved for naught in Kennedy's Bay 
of Pigs decision as the new President was simply unprepared 
to use any conventional decision-making apparatus. 

As Kennedy later admitted to Special Assistant 
Sorensen, "it is a tremendous change to go from being a 
Senator to being President. In the first months it is very 
difficult."^ In addition to pressure from the CIA, many 
sources credit Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, for 
having had the greatest influence on the President's 
ultimate decision to go forward with the Bay of Pigs.* 
Nevertheless, as detailed earlier, Kennedy made the most 
significant changes to his decision-making team immediately 
after the Bay of Pigs, culminating with the c. nvening of the 
EXCOMM some eighteen months later. 

In one of many Kennedy contradictions, for one who 
so loathed NSC and Cabinet meetings, it was the President 
who institutionalized the EXCOMM during the Cuban Missile 
Crisis. Some accounts dispute the actual value of the 
EXCOMM as a crisis decision-making body. Several members 
perceived that the meetings were dominated by Robert Kennedy 
who naturally had the most direct access to the President. 

One occasional member of the EXCOMM, Dean Acheson, 
described the meetings as "JFK's circus approach to crisis 


manageinent--minus the ringmaster." He added that 
acknowledging the outcome as successful was paying “homage 
to plain dumb luck. It does not detract from President 
Kennedy's laurels in handling the Cuban crisis that he was 
helped by the luck of Khrushchev's befuddlement and loss of 
nerve. The fact was that he succeeded. However, as the 
Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo, it was 'a damned near 
thing.' And one should not play one's luck so far too 

Judging by the final outcome, Kennedy's decisions 
were clearly the correct ones. Taken as a whole, his role 
in the Cuban Missile Crisis can be described more as a 
arbitrator of a crisis he helped create, rather than the 
manager of one that was thrust upon him in which he could 
rightfully claim to be the victim. In the end, it appears 
the means by which he came upon his decisions were more of a 
product of his personality and Cold War politics than any 
decision-making apparatus that was available to him. The 
threat of a nuclear exchange magnified the importance of his 
decisions. The existence of a credible conventional 
military capability gave his decisions substance. 

Khrushchev had no such luxury. 

Kennedy Personality 

President Kennedy was undoubtedly one of the most 
charismatic Presidents of the twentieth century. His 
personality was infectious to those around him and seemed to 


have an enormous influence on foreign policy formulation. 
Walt W. Rostov, who helped craft Kennedy's foreign policy, 
first as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology and later, as Assistant Secretary of State, 
remarked of Kennedy's personality and style, "It is 
extraordinary how the character of the President's 
personality shapes everything around is the damned 
liveliest thing I have ever seen."® Many of the 
President's closest advisors shared this view. 

To provide a framework for Kennedy's decision-making 
style, four principal personality traits stand out. The 
first of these was Kennedy's tendency to develop intense 
personal rivalries with his key adversaries, particularly 
Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. The second was the deep 
trust he maintained in only his few closest advisors while 
generally distrusting advisors he did not know. The third 
was his apparent indecisiveness at critical junctures. 
Finally, and perhaps the personality trait which had the 
greatest influence on his decision-making, was a sense of 
his own historical greatness and concern for his political 

Kennedy's rivalry with Khrushchev was primarily a 
product of East-West political realities. Although it does 
not appear that personal animosities between the two was 
reason for confrontation, Kennedy tended to resort to a 
decidedly personal tone when discussing his interactions 

with Khrushchev. Decisions in American-Soviet relations 
would be made based on worldwide perceptions of the relative 
strengths of the two men. Prior to their first summit, 
Kennedy remarked of Khrushchev, "If he wants to rub my nose 
in the dirt, it's all over."’ The ensuing Vienna Summit, 
in which Kennedy acknowledged that Khrushchev had bested 
him, further fueled the rivalry. Kennedy's determination to 
never again appear weak on the international stage caused 
decisions to be made which were a result of the personal 
rivalry between the two leaders. 

While the Kennedy-Khrushchev rivalry was borne 
principally out of the Cold War, the Kennedy-Castro rivalry 
had a more deep-seated personal character to it. Some 
writings suggest that Kennedy's attitude toward Castro was 
shaped as early as his days in the Senate. Kennedy felt 
betrayed after having supported Castro as a welcomed 
alternative to the Batista dictatorship, only to see him 
become increasingly radical in his leadership of Cuba and, 
eventually, come under the sphere of Soviet influence. 

After the Bay of Pigs, Special Assistant Sorensen 
wrote that Kennedy "should never have permitted his own deep 
feeling against Castro" to influence his decision to go 
ahead with the "project."”'^ Clearly, Kennedy's tendency to 
harbor intense rivalries with his major adversaries had a 
significant influence on his decision-making. 


A second Kennedy personality trait that affected his 
decision-making was the deep-rooted trust he had in advisors 
with whom he had a long association, and almost universal 
distrust of those with whom he was unfamiliar. The manner 
in which Kennedy restructured his White House staff after 
the Bay of Pigs is well documented and is included in 
Chapter Three. As indicated previously, the Joint Chiefs of 
Staff suffered as much, in terms of trust, as any 
organization from the new Kennedy arrangement. 

Additionally, the incorrect lesson Kennedy took from the Bay 
of Pigs experience served mostly to insulate him from 
critical advice that would have assisted him in his 

In addition to attempts by the civilian leadership 
to control the conduct of the quarantine, another 
illustration of the distrust Kennedy had for the military 
can be found during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After viewing 
photography of Soviet and Cuban aircraft lined up wing tip 
to wing tip on an airfield in Cuba, Kennedy inquired of the 
military if its own aircraft were not similarly vulnerable. 
Despite being assured that everything possible was being 
done to protect American aircraft on the ground, Kennedy 
ordered General Taylor to have a U-2 fly a photographic 
mission over Florida airfields to see for himself. 

Distressed at what he saw Kennedy ordered the Air Force to 
disperse the aircraft.''^ 


Again, by not putting any trust in the advice of 
military advisors, Kennedy failed to take into consideration 
the military implications of the decision he made. With all 
available Tactical Air Command and Navy aircraft deployed to 
Florida in a maximum readiness posture there was no room to 
disperse the aircraft further. With combat air patrol 
airborne continuously and additional anti-aircraft batteries 
emplaced around the airfields all necessary precautions were 
being taken. The Unified Commander, Admiral Dennison, 
responded that he could not execute the order "unless you 
want me to undeploy. The aircraft remained in Florida. 

The personality trait of ignoring the advice of 
experts for that of trusted advisors was potentially the 
most significant had the crisis escalated. As it was, 
military leaders in the field felt it was necessary to skirt 
around decisions made by civilian leaders who were seemingly 
out of touch with the evolving tactical situation and 
improperly informed about prudent military actions designed 
to protect troops. 

A third Kennedy personality trait that emerges from 
the study of these events was his seeming indecisiveness at 
critical moments. Ironically, this trait was not only a 
contributing cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but was also 
a significant reason the Crisis ended as it did. Had 
Kennedy taken action when intelligence reports (some as 
early as July 1962) first indicated the movement of 


offensive weapons to Cuba, the confrontation in October 
would not have had the implications of a nuclear exchange 
that it ultimately did. By the same token, had Kennedy not 
taken a full six days of EXCOMM deliberations to choose the 
quarantine as a course of action, an invasion (which was 
favored by the majority of the EXCOMM) would likely have 
resulted. Based on information now available concerning 
Cuban and Soviet strength on the island, thousands of 
American lives would certainly have been lost. 

During the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy's indecisiveness 
resulted in a plan that was continuously changed, delayed 
three times, and finally approved with the provision that it 
could be cancelled up to twenty-four hours prior to its 
execution. What resulted was a plan that was doomed to 
failure without a large commitment of American military 
forces. Lack of clear guidance from the President created 
enough ambiguity that those charged with executing the plan 
were led to expect a sufficient level of American 

The fourth personality trait which appears to have 
had a significant impact on Kennedy's decision-making was a 
sense of his own historical greatness and from that, a 
concern for his political image. As Theodore Sorensen 
described of Kennedy, "Far more than most politicians, he 
not only could objectively measure his own performance but 
also cared deeply about how that performance would be 


measured by future historians as well as contemporary 
voters.In the same vein, Kennedy was extremely 
sensitive to media criticism. Considered the first 
television-age President, it was widely acknowledged that 
Kennedy was exceptionally adept at using the inedia to cast 
him in the best possible light. 

This was best illustrated in another military crisis 
of the President's own choosing. Many Kennedy critics 
suggest the President intentionally suppressed negative 
accounts of the growing American effort in Vietnam to avoid 
having to make difficult political decisions at home 
regarding increased United States involvement. Kennedy did 
not want to be remembered by historians as the President who 
"lost Vietnam."”'® , 

It is impossible to judge to what degree Kennedy 
allowed the concern for his image and standing in history 
contribute to his decisions to use the military in the 
conduct of foreign policy. It is clear, however, that the 
political capital to be derived from the image that was 
depicted was certainly a motivating factor in making those 
decisions. His desire to appear resolute and confident, 
while out-maneuvering his opponents, was a common thread 
that was evident in each crisis. Time and again decisions 
were made that would result in the deployment of military 
units which reflected mostly political image considerations. 


Much like decisions during the Bay of Pigs and 
Vietnam, the eventual dec’sion to establish the quarantine 
during the Cuban Missile Crisis was perhaps also made 
because it was the most politically palatable option. To 
invade without warning would have irrevocably damaged 
Kennedy's worldwide prestige, and, as Robert Kennedy noted, 
invoke images of "a Pearl Harbor in would 
blacken the name of the United States in the pages of 
history."^* To do nothing would have been politically 
ruinous. In another exchange with Robert Kennedy, the 
President agreed that had he not taken action, "I would have 
been impeached.Additionally, some historians have 
speculated that the crisis did not occur earlier due to 
political considerations. With the mid-term elections 
approaching, Kennedy was simply delaying a decision he did 
not want to make. 

Arguably, the sum of the personality traits 
described above had the greatest impact on Kennedy's 
relationship with the military. Numerous examples have been 
provided which highlight the inevitable conflicts which 
Kennedy's personality and decision-making tendencies created 
with the Pentagon. Perhaps the most significant 
consequences were: (1) Kennedy's foreign policy and 
political objectives were never accompanied with a clear 
military objective; and (2) Kennedy's style took the 
military professionals out of the decision-making loop. 


The Joint Chiefs of Staff cannot escape blame. As 
noted previously, they failed the President early in his 
Administration by not strenuously expressing their concerns 
about the Bay of Pigs invasion plan. The ensuing distrust 
between Kennedy and the JCS was not entirely misplaced. 
During the Cuban Missile Crisis the military took actions 
that, although militarily prudent, were not authorized by 
the President. 

Nevertheless, the military was prepared when Kennedy 
called upon them. The military recognized the strategic 
implications of Cuba and had completed extensive planning 
for contingencies in the region. Additionally, despite 
their differences, the President was acutely aware of the 
value of a strong military, and therefore, it was Kennedy 
who ensured the military had the neccessary tools to perform 
its mission. 

President Kennedy was described by those closest to 
him as "an idealist without illusions."''® The foregoing 
accounts of his personality traits seem to bear this out. 
While recognizing the lofty ideals with which Americans 
viewed their place in the world, his decisions never strayed 
far from the political realities of how those decisions 
would play at home. \n individual does not rise to the 
highest office in the land without supren.^ confidence in his 
own judgment. While all accounts suggest that Kennedy 
sincerely believed in the vision he so clearly articulated. 


just as virtually every other person to occupy the White 
House, President Kennedy was first, and foremost, a 


Among the many legacies that defined the Kennedy 
Presidency was the realization that conventional military 
capabilities had a significant role to play in the Cold War 
world. Unlike his immediate predecessors. President Kennedy 
recognized that demands could be made of the Soviet Empire, 
and Communism could be contained, without resorting to 
nuclear war. The unfortunate by-product of his strategy was 
the eventual introduction of American combat forces into 
Southeast Asia. The definitive achievement of his doctrine 
was in keeping the United States out of a nuclear war when 
events, and experts of the day, pointed to the inevitability 
of just such a confrontation. 

In his speeches and press conferences. President 
Kennedy very closely articulated what is the modern day, 
textbook definition of the role the military performs as an 
element of national power. In an effort to ensure the 
military was able to fulfill this role, Kennedy's greatest 
contribution to the military establishment was in rebuilding 
its conventional capabilities after eight years of neglect 
by the Eisenhower Administration. He was so enamored of the 
military as an instrument of power that in most instances 
using the military was not only the most attractive option. 


but sometimes the only option Kennedy pursued. It is 
debatable whether it was always the correct option. 

Central to understanding what provided the 
motivation for Kennedy to employ the military in the 
execution of his foreign policy strategy is an appreciation 
of the vision Kennedy had of America's role in the world. 

It was shaped almost exclusively by the Cold War and his 
perception of democracy's predominance over communism. This 
was not a novel concept for leaders of his era; however, it 
was central to his campaign for the Oval Office, and 
arguably the theme with which he continued to campaign while 
in the White House for what would have certainly been a run 
for a second term. As noted earlier, the ultimate decision 
to employ the military was very nearly always made with 
domestic politics in the forefront. 

President Kennedy's personal ambitions and idealist 
perceptions of the world demanded a proactive strategy which 
had to be executed from a position of strength. A military 
capable of responding to any number of scenarios was the 
solution. Kennedy's flexible response strategy was the 

A convincing argument can be made that his strategy 
succeeded in spite of, rather than because of, the actions 
-'ennedy took during any number of crises during his 
Administration. Although Kennedy inherited the "Cuba 
problem," it was he who defined it as a crisis when it was 


politically advantageous to do so. The iminediate result was 
his undertaking of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which, in 
essence, produced a double-edged sword. The Bay of Pigs 
very likely resultec in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The 
results of the Bay of Pigs produced the decision-making 
mechanism which very likely resulted in the successful 
conclusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

It was the combination of Kennedy's decisions to use 
the military, and the military's performance once those 
decisions were made, that eventually validated his doctrine. 
Kennedy's personality, and the many opportune occurrences 
which he was a beneficiary of but had no control over, 
cannot be excluded as contributing to his successes. 

The real John F. Kennedy was purported to be a man 
who was extremely competitive, thought nothing of using his 
brother, Robert, as his primary henchman in neutralizing his 
competitors, and calculated his every move to enhance his 
public image. How much of this characterization is fact 
will never be known; however, to whatever degree that it may 
have been, assists in explaining Kennedy's overwhelming 
desire to appear dominant on the world stage. The military 
was the means by which he chose to do so. It also provides 
insight into Kennedy's distrust of the military hierarchy 
and the reasons he so politicized military decision-making. 
The error of this approach was eventually manifested in the 
Vietnam conflict. 


To say that Kennedy's management style was 
ineffective in the control of military employment is to 
trivialize his successes during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 
However, evidence suggests this episode was an extraordinary 
exception rather than the rule. Kennedy's bravado in 
deploying the military, or threatening its use, did not 
extend to the actual decisions he attempted to impose on 
military commanders once an operation was underway. The 
lesson to be drawn from this was not heeded by his successor 
and has hampered many presidents in their relationship with 
the military. 

In the final irony, although President Kennedy fully 
understood the role of the military in the conduct of 
foreign affairs, he never fully grasped the purely military 
implications of the decisions he ultimately made. His 
management style and decision-making apparatus did not allow 
for critical input from his senior military advisors. 



Chapter 1 

"'Robert Smith Thompson, The Missiles of October; The 
Declassified Story of John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 101. 

2lbid., 27-28. 

^Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Arms Control & 
Disarmament Agency, Understanding the INF Treaty (Washington, 
DC: Government Printing Office, 1989), 4. 

^Thompson, 51-52. 

®Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York: 
Simon & Schuster, 1979), 20. 

*John M. Collins, U.S. Soviet Military Balance: 
Concept and Capabilities 1960-1980 (New York: McGraw-Hill 

Publications Co., 1980), 19. 

^Charles DeVallon Dugas Bolles, "The Search for an 
American Strategy: The Origins of the Kennedy Doctrine" 
(Ph.D. diss.. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1985), 760. 

®Ibid., 760-761. 

’Thompson, 108. 

^°Ibid., 113. 

"'"'Thomas G. Paterson, Kennedy's Quest for Victory: 
American Foreign Policy 1961-1963 (New York: Oxford 

University Press, 1989), 126. 

"'^Michael R. Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and 
Khrushchev 1960-1963 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 

1991), 371. 

^®Bolles, 762-763. 

"'^Paterson, 5. 


‘'^Jeffrey G. Barlow, “President John F. Kennedy and His 
Joint Chiefs of Staff" (Ph.D. diss., University of South 
Carolina, 1981), 103-105. 

■"^Ibid., 106-107. 

’’^Thompson, 109. 

''®Maxwell D. Taylor, Swords and Plowshares (New York: 
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972), 184. 







Chapter 2 

'’Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, "Anatomy of a Failure: The 
Decision to Land at the Bay of Pigs," Political Science 
Quarterly 99 (Fall 1984); 472. 

^Adolf A. Berle, Jr., “The Cuban Crisis: Failure of 
American Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs 39 (October 1960): 

^Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier and President 
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990), 498. 

^Phillip W. Bonsai, “Cuba, Castro and the United 
States," Foreign Affairs 45 (January 1967): 270-271. 

^Ambrose, 499. 

*Ibid., 271. 

^Berle, 46. 

®Malcolm E. Smith, Jr., Kennedy's 13 Great Mistakes in 
the White House (New York: The National Forum of America, 
Inc., 1968), 53-54. 

^Ambrose, 499-500. 

^°Ibid., 500. 

^^’Wyden, 20. 

'’^ibid., 11. 


25 . 

■"•Ibid., 25. 

^^Thompson, 102. 

’^Sinith, 50-53. 

"•^Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days; John F. 

Kennedy in the White House (New York; Fawcett Premier Books, 

1965), 74. 

'’®Smith, 52. 

‘”lbid., 52. 

^°Wyden, 67. 

^‘'Smith, 53. 

^^Ambrose, 530. 

^^yden, 29-30. 

^^Ambrose, 532. 

25wyden, 71-73. 

^^Ambrose, 533. 

^^Thomas Halper, Foreign Policy Crisis; Appearance and 
Reality in Decision Making (Columbus: Charles E. Merrill 

Publishing Co., 1971), 27. 

^®Ambrose, 534. 

^Halper, 28-29. 

^°Beschloss, 102-103. 

^’’Wyden, 69. ^ 

^^Schlesinger, 219. 

^^Dayid Halberstara, T he Kennedy Presidential Press 
Conferences (New York; Earl M. Coleman Enterprises, Inc., 
Publishers, 1978), 4. 

^*John W. Gardner, President John F. Kennedy; To Turn 
the Tide (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962), 23-25. 


^^McGeorge Bundy, "The Presidency and the Peace," Foreign 
Affairs 42 (April 1964): 354. 

^^Ibid., 224. 

^^Wyden, 90. 

^®Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in 
Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: The 
Free Press, Macmillan, Inc., 1986), 142. 

^’Schlesinger, 227. 

^Herbert S. Parmet, JFK: The Presidency of John F. 

Kennedy (New York: The Dial Press, 1983), 161. 

^‘’Schlesinger, 227. 

^^Beschloss, 105. 

^^yden, 100-103. 

^Schlesinger, 228. 

^hbid., 236. 

^Thompson, 115. 

^^Wyden, 140. 

^Thompson, 114, 

^’Schlesinger, 250. 

®°Beschloss, 107. 

^‘'Thompson, 116. 

^^Halberstam, 76. 

”Schlesinger, 52. 

®^Beschloss, 114-115. 

^^Wyden, 17 6. 

^^Taylor, 186. 

^’’ibid., 187. 

^%yden, 87. 



^Ibid., 79. 

^^Jeffrey G. Barlow, "President John F. Kennedy and His 
Joint Chiefs of Staff," (Ph.D. diss.. University of South 
Carolina, 1981), 181. 

“Wyden, 79. 

“ibid., 65-92. 

^Neustadt, 142. 

“John P. Madden, "Operation Bumpy Road: The Role of 
Admiral Arleigh Burke and the U.S. Navy in the Bay of Pigs 
Invasion," (Masters Thesis, Old Dominion University, 1988), 

“Wyden, 125. 

“ibid., 173-288. 

“ibid., 270. 

“ibid., 295-304. 

^^Barlow, 197-198. 

^“'Douglas Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years 
1953-1971 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 128. 

^^Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: Harper & Row, 
Publishers, 1965), 301. 

Chapter 3 

^Gardner, 43-48. 
^Schlesinger, 270-271. 
^Ambrose, 553-554. 
^Beschloss, 145-146. 

^Ibid., 148. 

^Thompson, 122. 

^Beschloss, 224-225. 


®Ibid., 5-6. 

'^Thompson, 137-140. 

^°Beschloss, 6. 

"’’’James A. Nathan, "The Missile Crisis: His Finest Hour 
Now," World Politics 27 (January 1975): 262-263. 

’’^Lester H. Brune, The Missile Crisis of October 1962: 
A Review of Issues and References (Claremont, CA: Regina 

Books, 1985), 35. 

^%athan, 263. 


’’^Thompson, 353. 

’’^yden, 310. 

’’^Schlesinger, 276. 

’’®Beschloss, 146. 

’’’Schlesinger, 277-278. 

^Robert F. Kennedy, Thirteen Davs: A Memoir of the 
Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 

1969), 48. 

^’’Schlesinger, 278. 

^^Taylor, 197. 

23ibid., 197-198. 

^^Barlow, 167. 

^^Schlesinger, 733-734. 

^^Taylor, 266. 


2®Halper, 145-146. 

^’Kennedy, 118-119. 

^°Taylor, 269. 

^^Schlesinger, 737-740. 


^^Brune, 47. 


^^Paymond L. Garthoff, Reflections of the Cuban Missile 
Crisis (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institute, 1989), 10. 

^^Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight and David A. Welch, 
"Essence of Revision: Moscow, Havana, and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis," International Security 14 (Winter 1989/1990): 147- 


^^Garthoff, 16. 

^^Allyn, 138-139. 

^®Robert S. McNamara, "On the Brink of Disaster: Mutual 
Misjudgments Marked Cuban Crisis 30 Years Ago," The San Diego 
Union-Tribune . 14 October 1992: 9(B). 

^’Garthoff, 6. 

^Allyn, 145. 

'‘“’Ralph D. Crosby, Captain, USA, "The Cuban Missile 
Crisis: Soviet View," Military Review 56 (September 1976); 


^Thompson, 143. 

'‘^Adam Yarmolinsky, "Department of Defense Operations 
During the Cuban Crisis," Naval War College Review 32 
(July/August 1979): 84-88. 

^Robert W. Love, Jr., History of the United States Navy: 
1942-1991 (Harrisburg, PA; Stackpole Books, 1992), 444. 

^^Barlow, 210. 

^Ibid., 204-206. 

^^Loye, 456. 

^Taylor, 280. 

^^Love, 452. 

^“Jonathan M. House, Major, USA, "Joint Operational 
Problems in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Parameters; United 
States Army War College Quarterly 21 (Spring 1991): 94-97. 

5^Love, 446-447. 


^^Robert M. Beer, The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis , Trident Scholar Project Report No. 165 (Annapolis: 
United States Naval Academy, 1990), 52-53. 

”Smith, 127-128. 

^'^Love, 452-453. 

“Brune, 51. 

®*Scott D. Sagan, "Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management," 
International Security 9 (Spring 1985): 101. 

®^Love, 464. 

®®Nathan, 260-261. 

^’Carthoff, 69. 

“ibid., 61-62. 

Chapter 4 

''Gardner, 24-25. 

^Beschloss, 334. 

^Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, The Cuban Missile 
Crisis. 1962 (New York: The New Press, 1992), xi. 

^Sorensen, 281. 

^Ibid., 281. 

^Beschloss, 107-108. 

^Brinkley, 172-173. 

®Paterson, 14. 

^Sorensen, 516. 

''^Paterson, 124-125. 

’’’’Sorensen, 306. 

^^Kennedy, 59-60. 

■’^Barlow, 226-227. 

’’^Sorensen, 3-4. 


^^Peter Braestrup, Battle Lines: Report of the Twentieth 
Century Fund Task. Force on the Military and the Media (New 
York: Priority Press Publications, 1985), 62-63. 

'’^Neustadt, 6. 

''’’Kennedy, 67. 

^®Sorensen, 22. 




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Statement by Secretary Rusk Released October 23." 
Department of State Bulletin 47, 12 November 1962, 

"Significant Documents Declassified Under Executive Order 
11652: Messages Exchanged by President Kennedy and 
Chairman Khrushchev During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 
October 1962." Department of State Bulletin 69, 19 
November 1973, 635-665. 

"The Soviet Threat to the i^mericas: Address by President 

Kennedy Delivered on October 22." Department of State 
Bulletin 47, 12 November 1962, 715-720. 

Understanding the INF Treaty . Office of Public Affairs, 

U.S. Arms Control & Disarmament Agency, Washington, DC: 

"U.N. Security Council Hears U.S. Charges of Soviet Military 
Buildup In Cuba: Statements by Adlai E. Stevenson, 

U.S. Representative in the Security Council." 

Department of State Bulletin 47, 12 November 1962, 

U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Record Vol 108, Pt. 
14: pp. 18359-18361. 87th Cong., 2nd sess., August 

31, 1962. 

U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Record Vol 108, Pt. 

14: pp. 18726-18734. 87th Cong., 2nd sess., September 

6, 1962. 

U.S., Congress, Senate, Congressional Record Vol 108, Pt. 
17: p. 22957. 87th Cong., 2nd sess., October 10, 


Theses and Papers 

Barlow, Jeffrey G. “President John F. Kennedy and His Joint 
Chiefs of Staff." Ph.D. diss., University of South 
Carolina, 1981. 

Beer, Robert M. "The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis." Trident Scholar Project Report No. 165, 

United States Naval Academy, 1990. 

Bolles, Charles DeVallon Dugas. "The Search for an American 
Strategy: The Origins of the Kennedy Doctrine." Ph.D. 

diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1985. 

Madden, John P. “Operation Bumpy Road: The Role of Admiral 
Arleigh Burke and the U.S. Navy in the Bay of Pigs 
Invasion." Mast, thesis. Old Dominion University, 



1. Combined Arms Research Library 

U.S. Army Command and General Staff College 
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2. Defense Technical Information Center 
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3. LTC Richard L. Riper 


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4. Naval War College Library 
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5. COL W. Stuart Towns 
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6. Mr. Robert Walz 


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